- West Seattle Bridge is open. Interesting numbers for when it was closed. Ryan Packer write about the legacy of the closing.
- Greg Spotts, the incoming SDOT Director, gets around (rarely by car).
- This story about getting to school is late, but so was the first day.
- We are two days into the official “Week Without Driving“. For many — even in car
lovingdependent Seattle — this is the way they live all the time.
- Seattle City Council is looking at Third Avenue again. I like the couplet idea, but with contraflow on both streets.
- Agencies continue to struggle with staffing; Metro may study new RapidRide lines.
- SDOT is looking for feedback on Eastlake (still). Largely bike related, but buses are faster with some of the proposals as well.
- Lynnwood to allow for more apartments and office space.
This is an open thread.
325 Replies to “News Roundup”
Greg Spotts has been a joy to follow on Twitter. He is certainly walking-the-walk in getting to know Seattle from the street level on the weekends.
For 3rd Avenue, I agree that the couplet (page 32 on the DSA vision booklet) with contraflow would be the best way to maintain current bus-volume capacity while dispersing the density and increasing friendliness to pedestrians. 2nd and 4th are basically highways through the city – I’d go so far as to advocate for turning 4th back into a two-way street, too (but without left turns).
Julie Timm has also been tweeting a lot. Interestingly, she moved to West Seattle. She’ll get a lot of personal experience on the transit situation between there and the rest of the city.
It’s been nice to see Julie Timm and Greg Spotts developing a good rapport on social media. These are very public positions so it’s nice to see that they’re comfortable sharing the publicizable aspects of their transition into their roles.
I’m curious to see what visible changes (if any) we’ll see as these two settle in. Spotts’ support for transportation alternatives is adding to a growing interia within SDOT and the city. Timm is taking the reins of an agency that will have to be very clever in the next couple years to successfully navigate a very rough road, and will have to deal with a Board that is minimally interested in taking the heat for short-term construction impacts in service of far-off benefits to be reaped by future electeds.
If you create a Second/Third couplet, you are implicitly dividing downtown into a “haves” zone dominated by the private auto and a “have-nots” section served by transit.
A couplet should be Third and Fourth to put transit through the core of the development. Second and Fifth can either be one-way or bi- directional, depending on the level of traffic calming that people will accept.
I realize that the DSA would be apoplectic about its idea for a couplet ending up on Fourth, not Second, but that’s just Kemper Thought.
Right now we have a bus sewer from 6am to 7pm every day, with some buses (ST Express, etc.) using 2nd and 4th as a loop to serve downtown. The couplet idea basically condenses this to two avenues (DSA proposes 2nd and 3rd because most tourism outside Seattle Center or Pike/Pine is on the low avenues, and 4th, 5th, and 6th are obviously the exclusive domain of the real workers who drive to their jobs).
My true preference would be for bus traffic to be spread more widely across downtown, via a return to two-way operation on all avenues with general traffic limited to one lane each way at most, and the rest of the street space allocated to sidewalks, bike lanes, and bus lanes.
Just reduce four lanes to three like other road diets, with a two-way passing lane in the middle to add a bit more capacity. Couplets seem like an unnecessary complication. And blaming 3rd Avenue’s woes on buses seems like scapegoating. The concentration of loiterers/drug dealers/stolen goods sellers is at two blocks of 3rd, not the entire street. The reason the concentration is there is it’s the center of town where the most customers are. The department stores, buses, and red-light market all located downtown for the same reason. Blaming the red-light market on the bus mall seems like a distraction. If the buses were on 2nd and 4th, the red-light market would still probably be on 3rd, because 2nd and 4th are high-speed car sewers with few pedestrians; i.e., few customers.
The Seattle Times has a front page article on 3rd Ave. today. There appears to be several goals by the council and SDOT:
1. The council is opposed to any reduction in “bus” capacity (although I think they really mean rider capacity, and the article does discuss how to move the same number of riders with fewer buses).
2. SDOT and the council would like to reduce the number of buses on 3rd without reducing “capacity”.
3. SDOT would like to attract pedestrians to 3rd who are not just transit riders passing through.
4. To get pedestrians onto 3rd to shop there have to be retail and restaurant density.
5. Today retail and restaurant density are dead on 3rd, and by dead I don’t mean slow, but boarded up shops from basically Yesler to Pine. So SDOT has a long way to go.
Apparently the goal is to shift some of the buses to other avenues with the hope that will decrease the “wall” of buses on 3rd, incentivize businesses and restaurants to return to 3rd, which will incentivize shoppers and diners who are not just transit riders passing through — which by definition to me means car drivers/shoppers — without importing the issues on 3rd to the other avenues which are also struggling, which basically is induced retail demand although that rarely if ever works for retail. Rarely do businesses go first, and then wait for the shoppers.
The fly in the ointment is there are inadequate retail shops and restaurants in all of downtown Seattle today, so the only way 3rd will attract businesses is if they move from another avenue or street. The risk of course is this plan backfires and not only do pedestrians and businesses not return to 3rd but downtown Seattle’s already struggling retail and restaurant business is damaged by moving buses to other avenues for the same reasons 3rd Avenue’s street businesses are dead.
Although some on this blog approach this issue as how to increase bus speeds through downtown I get the idea the council and SDOT are approaching this issue as to how to revitalize 3rd Avenue’s businesses in order to attract discretionary shoppers. Increasing bus speeds is easy compared to revitalizing retail in a downtown core, especially post pandemic.
I don’t see this happening. There just is not enough retail space demand in downtown Seattle to revitalize 3rd. 3rd basically is dead retail wise from Yesler to Pine. There isn’t enough demand for retail space even in previously high end locations like Pacific Place, 5th, and 6th.
In order to create retail space demand on 3rd SDOT and the council are going to have to create such retail vibrancy on every other street and avenue downtown that only 3rd is left, even after 1st which at least may benefit from the waterfront park. The reality is downtown Seattle will likely continue to lose retail for a number of reasons. Why would any retail business open on 3rd when there is plenty of retail space for rent on other avenues and streets?
I don’t know if just buses are the cause for the bleakness of 3rd, but SDOT thinks buses are by its plan to move buses to other avenues, apparently with the belief those buses won’t impact retail on the other avenues. The irony is the council does not see that it is the reason — along with WFH — for the decline of retail throughout downtown. 3rd is just the least attractive of all the avenues for retail, which is why it is dead retail wise while at least other avenues struggle to survive.
I think it is a mistake to ask a transit agency like SDOT to create retail vibrancy downtown because SDOT has no idea what it is doing in the most competitive area (retail vibrancy) when where retail density thrives is often a mystery, especially when SDOT is burdened with a progressive ideology that undermines retail because it undermines pedestrians who want to come and shop, when there are SO MANY better places to shop or dine than downtown Seattle, some in Seattle itself like U Village. Unless the council and SDOT have a plan to disadvantage U Village too. SDOT basically is the cause for the death of 3rd. Is SDOT really the agency to then fix 3rd?
I will be interested to see what Harrell does, which will determine what Spotts does. If the Chamber is opposed to moving buses from 3rd to other avenues, and Harrell is desperate to revitalize downtown retail and business which he is, does Harrell take on such a doomed project when so far he at least seems to understand revitalizing downtown begins with the tents, then the crime, then the real hard part: attracting shoppers who have so many better options when retail density is either lame on avenues 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7, or dead as on 3rd.
I literally don’t know a single person in the last ten years who has said I am going to 3rd Ave. to shop (although very few have said they are going to any part of downtown Seattle to shop). It will be nearly impossible to change that mindset, unless SDOT and Metro move ALL the buses on 3rd to another avenue and sacrifice that avenue. 3rd Avenue is the perfect example of whether retail can survive without shoppers arriving in cars and adequate and obvious parking. The other perfect example is U Village.
Move all buses to 3rd and have SDOT concentrate on improving bus speeds along 3rd, including banning cars if necessary. Sacrifice 3rd for the necessary transit. If the council’s policies suddenly make downtown so attractive to retail there is inadequate retail space everywhere else downtown some brave business owner will be a green shoot along 3rd, and who knows. But Harrell is a million miles away from that scenario today, and Harrell and the council are lifetime politicians who just don’t understand the brutal game of retail.
Why does SDOT want to attract non-transit riding pedestrians to 3rd Ave?
1. “Bus capacity” means rider capacity: seats and standing spaces. The buses are half-empty on 3rd because it’s a spaghetti of routes. The three RapidRide lines consolidated multiple routes, allowing them to serve more people with fewer bus vehicles.
2. The city has been planning since the 2013 transit master plan to increase the number of RapidRide lines and minimize non-RapidRide routes on 3rd. The overestimates in Move Seattle and then the covid recession delayed those, but they’re still long-term plans. RapidRide H (120) and I (70) are under construction. RapidRide R (7) is in planning. RapidRide 40 didn”t have enough funding, so SDOT is planning interim improvements in the meantime. RapidRide 62 doesn’t have funding and appears to be stalled. If the full Metro Connects 2016 were implemented, the number of RapidRide lines on 3rd would increase from 3 to at least 8. That’s a lot of north-south capacity on 3rd every couple minutes, with fuller buses so they can be fewer buses.
A north-south shuttle replacing all routes would be a variation of that. Denver has such a shuttle, running every 1-2 minutes. It goes to a train/bus depot at one end of downtown, where a lot of underground routes terminate. I don’t see the point in a shuttle when the RapidRide lines serve the same purpose, and also provide one-seat rides to several other parts of town.
Metro also wanted to eliminate turns on 3rd between Olive Way and Yesler Way to increase bus speeds. It implemented it on Pike/Pine but it fizzled out with the 2, 3, and 4. The 3 and 4 were going to be moved to Yesler but that fizzled out too. If Metro goes through with a RapidRide G restructure that consolidating the 2/11/49 into a Pike/Pine-12th-Union route, that would take care of that.
“which will incentivize shoppers and diners who are not just transit riders passing through — which by definition to me means car drivers/shoppers”
That’s the suburban mindset. In New York and London most shoppers don’t arrive by car. Seattle could be that too if it stopped trying to be an American car-centric exception. Transit riders and pedestrians shop at stores too. There would be more of them if transit were better, neighborhoods throughout the city were more walkable, and destinations they want to go to were on 3rd Avenue. One problem is the closures due to crime. Another problem is boutiques that have nothing of interest to most people. Ordinary people aren’t going to buy an overpriced shoe or designer shirt or a T-shirt that says “Washington” every week. What they need is groceries, hardware, housewares, bookstores, a haircut, etc. They’ll go to the shopping areas that have these.
“there are inadequate retail shops and restaurants in all of downtown Seattle today, so the only way 3rd will attract businesses is if they move from another avenue or street.”
That doesn’t solve the inadequacy; it just moves it around. You need to grow the pie. Downtown retail expanded in absolute terms in the 90s, 00s, and 10s. If you want to attract more people, there needs to be more retail for them to go to. And a wide variety of retail, because different people go to different things.
“Although some on this blog approach this issue as how to increase bus speeds through downtown I get the idea the council and SDOT are approaching this issue as to how to revitalize 3rd Avenue’s businesses in order to attract discretionary shoppers.”
The council is looking for a wholistic solution. The council is responsible for both transportation, the economy, people’s well-being, and eliminating crime. It’s trying to do all of these at once.
“I think it is a mistake to ask a transit agency like SDOT to create retail vibrancy downtown”
It’s not. SDOT only does transportation. It’s the council’s job to define a wholistic vision and balance SDOT’s transportation wishlist against the other needs, and ultimately to tell SDOT what to build.
“SDOT is burdened with a progressive ideology that undermines retail because it undermines pedestrians who want to come and shop”
What about SDOT is progressive? How does it undermine pedestrians? You’re blaming SDOT for things that aren’t SDOT. The right people to blame are the elected city council and mayor. If SDOT has done anything progressive, it’s investing in lower-income neglected neighborhoods (Rainier, Delridge, 23rd). That has little to do with 3rd Avenue retail.
“Why does SDOT want to attract non-transit riding pedestrians to 3rd Ave?”
Daniel is just making an artificial distinction between pedestrians who come by bus vs those who come by car/bike/scooter or live within walking distance. If vibrant retail exists, existing bus riders will shop there on the way to the bus stop, or will take the bus to it on days they wouldn’t otherwise go downtown.
As for what SDOT wants, it’s probably nothing. SDOT isn’t involved in how many pedestrians should be there or what retail should be line. That’s all the city council and mayor. It’s not SDOT wanting to widen the sidewalks; it’s the Downtown Seattle Association and the city council. If the council tells it to, it will do so, but that doesn’t make it an SDOT-initiated project.
I was just on 3rd Ave. changing buses the other day. Compared to 2nd and 4th, 3rd Ave. has a lot of blank walls. There’s not a lot of physical retail space with doors on 3rd Ave. So, there’s a fundamental limit on how much retail and go on 3rd Ave. without major building renovations. The good news though, the blocks of 3rd/Pine and 3rd/Pike both looked completely clean, with no crazies or drug addicts in sight. So, whatever Harrell is doing to clean up the area seems to be working. I hope it lasts.
“the blocks of 3rd/Pine and 3rd/Pike both looked completely clean, with no crazies or drug addicts in sight”
They must have walked away for five minutes. I’ll believe it when I can wait for the 131/132 with none of them around. Especially since I may start riding the 131 more often in the future.
Yesterday at the 4th & Pine bus stop at 7pm, I saw at least one person smoking with foil, and a similar crowd around them. And one woman with prostitute-looking high heels and nylons.
We do not want the DSA to plan our transit network; they advocated for all three local streetcars, the sale of CPS so the convention center, ending bus service in the tunnel prematurely, creating the capacity crisis of 2019. The transit volume in 2019 was too high; the DSA helped cause that (the agencies could have handled capacity crisis better). The transit issues of 2019 are not those of 2022. Transit volumes on 3rd Avenue can be reduced without civil work: with far less office work, there can be fewer one-way peak-only routes and trips; when the CCC Streetcar is killed, some bus routes can be shifted to 1st Avenue from 3rd Avenue. The priority that SDOT provided to 3rd Avenue kept transit and the city moving while we waited for ST to build the most important parts of the Link network. Sure, there are some reasonable capital improvements: better lighting, functioning real time schedule information, and functioning escalators. But costly civil work would take scarce funds that are needed elsewhere. Are 2nd, 4th , and 5th avenues any friendlier to pedestrians? 6th Avenue has an I-5 interchange. Feed Link.
We do not want the DSA to plan our transit network
I don’t think they would. This is fundamentally a beautification project, involving Third Avenue. It isn’t about traffic volume, it is about the number of lanes used by the buses. Could we reduce them enough to have only one lane each direction? I doubt it. But if so, that solves the problem right there, and we can increase the sidewalks accordingly. If not, then the couplet makes more sense.
Ultimately it is SDOT’s call, not the DSA’s. Of course SDOT should cooperate with Metro when it comes to these (and other changes).
I am not a fan of contraflow transit all the way through Downtown. It looks interesting in a diagram, but the way the signals work make it really problematic. The downstream transit signal would always need timing in the opposite direction of traffic.
Second Ave already has bad congestion even with the current signal sequencing. To make it worse for drivers by reducing the signal sequencing would force them to start using other streets — from the waterfront to the Central District. It just seems to me to be a safer strategy to encourage drivers to use Second and keep other streets from being more clogged and dangerous.
The bus riders on the current contraflow streets Downtown already deal with lots of delay at traffic lights. There is a real-world example here of the delay problem with a longer transit contraflow lane.
I think a better solution is to revisit how the signals work on Third Ave — and making changes in ways that buses can go between stops without getting stopped at a red light. With no more 99 ramps, the use of streets running up and down the hill seems much lighter. Third Ave could get more green light time and the side street green time could be less frequent . Maybe some signals could be removed or lanes can be taken to build more escalator paths to go between First and Sixth.
A second ignore strategy would be to deal with making the hill easier for pedestrians. That seems a much more effective investment to me than building new configurations on the flatter avenues is. I really hope the Downtown interests quit messing with the flat streets and address the hill climb challenge for pedestrians instead. That’s the big elephant problem that needs solutions.
Many streets throughout the world have lights timed to go opposite directions. It isn’t that difficult. The idea that this would automatically be worse is absurd. There are winners and losers with every traffic light choice. Give an avenue a lot of priority (more green) and perpendicular streets get stuck at red more often. The priority should be on moving transit, and for that, using two streets (going opposite directions) instead of one is not especially hard.
No matter what, though, it is likely that a regular bus will have to stop at a traffic light. That is because it is serving bus stops. It might have timed a light perfectly, only to stop at a bus stop. When it starts again, the light is red. There is no ideal solution for that (other than a busway).
“ Many streets throughout the world have lights timed to go opposite directions.”
While this is true, they don’t have a signal every 200-250 feet with guaranteed pedestrian crossing four lanes with every cycle. It takes only about 7-8 second for a bus to go a block and it takes about 12 seconds (plus 5 seconds for a walk sign and another 5 seconds for a yellow light and now another five seconds for a pedestrian first early green or 27 seconds total).
There just isn’t enough distance with Downtown Seattle blocks. If the City was able to remove every other signal it would be smoother in both directions but it’s still not enough. The math suggests having a signal only every 4 blocks. That’s not something I think will happen.
“… about 12 seconds” for a pedestrian to cross the four lanes of Third Ave.
I disagree about traffic signals, but you are also missing the point. It doesn’t matter if the buses are all one street or two. They are going different directions either way. If anything, based on what you are saying, it would actually be easier to have them on two streets. General purpose traffic might be worse, but so what? The only reason we allow cars on those streets is for local access (just like we only allow cars on Third at certain times of the day).
You also haven’t addressed the bigger issue, which is that it is damn near impossible to time the traffic lights for so many buses making stops of random duration every few blocks. Let’s say the 1 and 2 arrive at 3rd and Seneca at the same time, heading north. The 2 takes five seconds more to leave. The 1 goes smoothly through two traffic lights, and stops before Pike. The 2, however, is not so lucky, and gets stopped by the traffic light at Union. Roughly an hour later, the buses arrive at the same stop at the same time again. Except this time the 1 gets stuck at the light, but not for long. By the time it turns green, the 2 is right on its tail. In both cases the traffic lights appear to be timed perfectly for one bus, but not the other. Now consider that at those stop pairs, there are 16 buses. Those buses don’t stop at 3rd and Union. But 20 other buses do. Trying to time this becomes impossible. You are best left with timing that appears random, but does give priority to avenues instead of streets. Not that I’m saying they really are random (as I’m sure there is some complicated system involved) but it won’t be like Denny (which is timed both directions).
Rosss, bad example. The 1 can’t pass the 2, and the 2 can’t pass the 1 except by retracting and then rewiring the poles. Neither is quick.
Use RapidRides for buses passing buses….
Much of 3rd has 4 sets of trolley wire (8 wires total) for trolley buses to pass each other.
I’ve been on a 1 that retracted, ran on battery power the length of downtown, and put the poles back up. It wasn’t too bad, but it was done using a trolley pole pan at a specific spot near Seattle Center.
If they installed a few more of those, they could have a lot of flexibility.
My example had nothing to do with buses passing each other. Thinking about it some more, I didn’t write it very well — I added unnecessary complexity. How about this:
Let’s say the 1 leaves 3rd and Seneca, heading north. The 2 is behind it, and leaves 5 second later. The 1 goes smoothly through two traffic lights, and stops before Pike. The 2, however, is not so lucky, and gets stopped by the traffic light at Union.
Roughly an hour later, the same sort of thing happens. The 1 leaves 3rd and Seneca, heading north. The 2 is behind it, and leaves 5 second later. This time, the 1 gets stuck at the light, but not for long. By the time it turns green, the 2 is right on its tail.
In both cases the traffic lights appear to be timed perfectly for one bus, but not the other. That is the problem. You can’t really time it the way that you can through traffic. With light timing on some streets, once you get a green light, there will be another green light up ahead, assuming you are going the speed limit. This continues for many blocks. If you stop — to say, pick up riders — then it throws everything off.
Of course what you say in the “simplified” example is true. Buses stopping takes them off the cycle. They get back on the next one after the stop.
I really don’t see what is gained by a contraflow operation. The Portland Mall works very well, even including surface light rail in the skip stop pattern. Stops are about four blocks apart for each set, and running with the cycle for that far is quite efficient. Even MAX usually does not have to stop between stations.
I really don’t see what is gained by a contraflow operation.
Just to back up here, the most important thing is the couplet. But how the couplet is implemented is important as well. The couplet offers three things:
1) Retains the same level of throughput for the existing buses.
2) Shrinks the width of the automotive part of the street(s), allowing sidewalks to be bigger (the entire focus of the project).
3) Allows automobiles to access the transit street, potentially without ever interfering with transit operations.
Note the word “potentially”. This is where contraflow has a couple of advantages:
1) More likely to be designed as bus-lane, not a BAT lane (by its very nature).
2) Less likely to be violated.
Bus lanes are fairly rare in Seattle — BAT lanes aren’t. Likewise, bus-lane violations are way more common when traffic is going the same way. Often this is benign. You can see an example of this with the Portland Transit Mall: https://goo.gl/maps/phkRsp3W8SYygfD9A. Notice the white truck is crossing into the transit lanes (to avoid a parked car). It doesn’t really matter, as it is out of the lane before the train comes. Those sorts of violations happen (for a variety of reasons) all the time. Once in a while, they slow down a train or bus.
It really comes down to that. I feel that with contraflow, there is a much lower chance of cars using the transit lanes. If the city makes a real commitment to preventing that (e. g. posts or curbs) than it would be unnecessary. I’ll admit that with two transit lanes (instead of one) the chances of poaching go down. It is unlikely that a car would cut across two lanes to turn right at an intersection, for example.
I agree that it would go down. It would completely eliminate the stuff that happens on the Portland mall where auto traffic goes into the transit lanes to make a right turn from the far right lane,
There has been lots of discussion about the East Link delay but not about the Federal Way Link delay. The delay for Federal Way Link is a landslide and slope stability at McSorley Creek, which is south of the KDM station.
Should Link open a one station extension to KDM if the problem delays the project significantly? It seems to be a lot more logical and an easier thing to do than to open a partial Link line on the Eastside of Lake Washington. The KDM station will enable Highline College riders to walk to and from Link, put a Link station right off of I-5 provide Kent residents a faster bus connection to Link (if done well).
A couple of my old teachers at Highline will be happy to have a better option for getting to the airport for some of the classes they teach there.
If the parking at Angle Lake is filling up and the KDM garage is ready to go, might be worth doing this to help the park and ride situation as well as serving the college.
How does the OMF-South come into play here? Sorry to ask the question but I haven’t been following the Federal Way extension project that closely of late. Thanks in advance.
There are plenty of cars just sitting at Forest Street now. Extending service one station would probably require just one additional train in “base service”. The Federal Way MF will be required to open Lynnwood, though, in the absence of a connection to Wilburton.
OMF-S doesn’t come into play; it is to open well after FW Link and is needed to support the first wave of ST3 projects. ST can open all of ST2 (including Redmond Link) with only OMF-C and -E in operation.
If there is a complete failure in the cross-lake crossing, then sure OMF-S could be used in lieu of OMF-E, but I don’t see that happening as that would delay Lynnwood Link by many years (OMF-S hasn’t even finished EIS, let along broken ground) … I’d imagine ST would just make do with low frequency rather than dramatically delay a completed Lynnwood segment.
That makes sense. Thanks for the reply, Tom T.
AJ is right. OMF-S is not needed until Tacoma Dome Link is almost ready per ST plans.
If something goes completely south with Lake Washington Link connections then it could be important. Still, if that happens, the system problems would be much bigger than just an OMF.
Thanks for the replies gentlemen. Yes, I was asking in the context of an extended delay to a Lake Washington crossing. (I should’ve framed my question that way.) The last STB posting must still be on my mind. ;)
@Tlsgwm: Sound Transit could just Truck LRV’s over from OMF-East. They might already have to do that as is, so it’s something that could be scaled enough to support the headways Lynwood would need.
And also, LAMTA’s (soon to be former) Gold Line use(d) to do this, as the OMF it had couldn’t do heavy maintenance, so for that it’s vehicles were shipped to the OMF the Blue and Green Lines use.
FDW, trucking LRV’s definitely works, as for heavy maintenance. But it only works occasionally. Trucking them back and forth every day to park them at night, not so much. There is not enough track space at Forest Street to park all the LRV’s necessary for Kent-Des Moines or Federal Way to Lynnwood full service.
Now maybe you do those short turns either at Judson Park or Forest Street or run three-car trains. That might provide sufficient coverage with the existing fleet, but it would be tight, to say the least. Ross predicts they’ll go to longer headways, but they really can’t, at least between Northgate and CID.
Forest Street can hold 104 vehicles, according to an article about Wilburton, which will host 96. Right now ST is running eight minute headways during the peaks. It takes 57 minutes for a train to go from Angle Lake to Northgate or the reverse, and trains sit in one terminal briefly but the other for several minutes and an operator change/break.
That means that there are fifteen or sixteen trains running at the peak for a total of 60 cars. When the system is extended to Federal Way, it will be an additional twelve minutes per run per direction, so maybe 18 trains? Nineteen?
Eighteen times four is 92 cars; that’s not “more than 104”, but dangerously close. Nineteen would 96 cars and not sustainable; there are always a half dozen or more cars in the shop for periodic maintenance and there has to be a “relief train” at all times.
And that’s just to Northgate. Adding twenty minutes each way to Lynnwood — another four trains at a minimum — would be impossible without another Maintenance Facility even just for “parking” and cleaning.
KDM station makes sense as a standalone extension, so sure. There’s even an opportunity for a solid bus restructure (unlike East Link, where on the last comment thread it was hard to identify consensus around modify any route without the full East Link in operations), though some of the more aggressive PT/ST route truncations may way until FW station is open?
I agree on all points. Kent/Des Moines is next to the college, which itself is worth a fair number of riders. There might be a little restructuring, but because there aren’t the big ramps (like at Federal Way Station) you won’t see much in the way of truncation.
This is where the post below about making 240th a bus pathway was supposed to go. Whether or not Southside HOV ramps are connected to it or not, getting the buses out of the congestion at K-DM and I-5 and K-DM and Pac Highway makes the cost of a bridge and short busway connection over to Military Road a bargain in long-term operating costs.
It’s way faster, especially westbound.
Yay, Ross. Exactly. THIS is what makes Germany such beautiful and functional country. They have HARD limits on their urban growth so that they can (largely) feed their large population on a relatively tiny amount of flat land. Even little towns have “UGB’s” whether they have a name for it or not.
Instead, American cities and towns dribble off into the forest, with cheap-shit housing and the ruin of valuable agricultural land by the township. Every rich narcissist who wants a McMansion with a view cuts down another forty trees. A pox on us.
Oh, darn. I got the reply in the wrong place again. Apologies. This was in reply to Ross’s post about a gondola versus express buses below Martin’s comment below.
KDM certainly makes a lot of sense. Al&Tom, I like your idea about connecting KDM to downtown Kent, I had some discussions with Metro and they pointed out the geographic challenges. I suggested a gondola along S 240th and they really liked the idea as it would skip right over I-5 and associated congestion, deal with the geography and wet lands, and provide a high frequency link to KDM. I wish more money for these kind of connections would have been set aside as they could really increase the walkshed for stations like KDM and it may cost about as much as building a bus only bridge over I-5. (and it would also be a great way for students living in Kent to get to Highline College)
Metro liked a gondola? Wow.
Metro Connects has a RapidRide line on KDM/KK Road from KDM Station to Kent Station to 132nd, turning south to Green River CC. Currently only express routes use it. The former route on Reith Road was much slower. The current route on Lakeside Blvd and Veterans’ drive I haven’t seen but I assume it’s also slower, although maybe not as much.
If KCM wants to make Kent Station (in DT Kent) a key bus network hub, a gondola to Link may actually make sense.
I agree, this would be a good use of Station Access funding, if ST had a much bigger kitty of money to spend.
The comment section is outraged by the thought of Ballard residents having to take a bus a few blocks from Old Ballard to a Link station on 14th, but thinks a two mile long gondola connecting downtown Kent to KDM station is a great idea?
Sam, it’s more like Lake City where Link doesn’t serve Kent, and the powers that be decided to serve the 99 corridor instead, but Kent is so critical it should have good indirect access to Link at minimum. An all-day express or rapidride on KDM road is the only way to get minimally acceptable travel time. And it’s not just Kent station that needs it but also East Hill because that’s where the bulk of the population lives. The proposed corridor meets this by giving a one-seat ride as far east as 132nd, which includes East Hill and Lake Meridian.
The reason to serve Kent is it’s large population, central location, diversity, lower-income and essential workers, and it has such bad access to the region without it. It needs it’s own all-day Sounder, Link line, or express route so it doesn’t take an hour just to get downtown, which is too long for Kent’s size and ridership and equity.
Mike, I think quite a few people moved to Kent because of the Sounder connection to downtown, which works great for commuters, but until Sounder runs all day, you get stuck otherwise. A gondola to KDM could totally change this for the same reason Kirkland is looking at a gondola to connect I-405 BRT to downtown.
Sam, are you suggesting Old Ballard should be served by gondola, too? ST could save a ton of money/time if they would only run Link to Interbay and build a gondola over the ship canal instead of a tunnel.
“quite a few people moved to Kent because of the Sounder connection to downtown”
And more people moved to Kent because they can’t afford housing in Seattle or the Eastside.
A Kent gondola has more going for it than the Seattle proposals I’ve heard. A Denny Way gondola has the headwinds of faster buses on the ground, thousands of destinations in between the stations that can’t use it directly, and objections over marring views. A West Seattle gondola would be competing with all highways.
A gondola between KDM and Kent Station would be going over a no-man’s-land where there’s nobody between the stations that’s not being served or who would object to the view. It would avoid turns and stoplights that slow down buses.
Ideally it would continue to East Hill. That’s also a large hill, where gondolas have the best advantage vs other modes. However, since gondolas are limited-stop, you’d still need a bus for the in-between stops like the high school.
In Seattle I guess the best place for a gondola would be from Harborview, maybe down to the International District. That’s a corridor buses can’t easily sere because of the hill and street grid.
I can think of lots better places to put a gondola than between KDM Link and Downtown Kent. Gondolas work best when the distance is under 1.5 miles but there is a natural barrier like a waterway or a huge slope difference. This has neither of these. Gondolas are also much slower than a bus on a road with few stops and a higher speed limit.
The better solution is probably either a RapidRide or Stride line. SR 516 even has room for bus lanes. The Route could go further west to Des Moines or further east up the hill maybe even as far as Covington. It could be up and running fairly quickly.
Mike, I think quite a few people moved to Kent because of the Sounder connection to downtown, which works great for commuters, but until Sounder runs all day, you get stuck otherwise.
I wouldn’t call catching a bus being stuck. The bus is slower though. Depending on your destination downtown, the train saves around 20 minutes according to Google. That is end to end travel time from close to the station to “Downtown Seattle” (https://goo.gl/maps/4tcuLjrVrKEFonU17). If you time it right, the train can save you a considerable amount of time during rush hour. But since the bus runs more often, it is surprisingly competitive. For example, if you leave Kent at 8:00 AM, you can be at 3rd and Madison at 9:07 using the train. If you leave at noon, you can be there at 1:04 PM.
The 150 could be faster though. It takes a pretty indirect route once it hits Tukwila. The obvious reason is there simply aren’t that many people going back and forth from Kent to downtown Seattle (unlike, say, Renton). It is just too expensive to run express buses all day. You can’t get the kind of frequency you have on the 150 without going out of your way to serve stops along they way, which means a slower path.
Which is why the gondola idea is probably not worth it. During rush hour, people will take Sounder. Outside of rush hour, a gondola would not save people a lot of time. It will take 42 minutes from Kent/Des Moines to downtown via Link (https://www.soundtransit.org/system-expansion/federal-way-link-extension). Add another 8 minutes for the gondola. You also have the time it takes to get to the various platforms. It isn’t that much faster than the 150, nor that much more frequent. All to serve an area that can’t justify all-day express service. Meanwhile, you’ve skipped over the area in between. This means that this gondola — however nice — does not replace the need for bus service (e. g. https://goo.gl/maps/PtJrzmic2vTGy2XB8).
It is worth looking at that route, and considering why it follows that path. With the extension of Link, it (or another bus) could take a more direct path. But the area served along the way (e. g. 64th) has just about as much density as the area around the train station. There are a lot of big parking lots just to the east of the station. There are lots of houses on big lots north of the station. There is some density to the east (more easily visible in 3D) just not a lot. Even the apartments take up a lot of space (with parking and adjacent parks). You do have some employment density (with the justice center) but it isn’t that close (https://goo.gl/maps/73sMd1jzivAfjet36) nor that dense in employment.
Gondolas are much cheaper to build and operate than trains, but they aren’t free. You have to have high ridership to justify their capital costs, and even their operational costs. You just aren’t going to get that many riders.
This is what makes it very different than what Mike mentioned (a Capitol Hill/South Lake Union/Seattle Center gondola). Those neighborhoods are dense — very dense by Seattle standards. At the time, the 8 was always stuck in traffic — in the middle of the day. The distance was actually quite reasonable for a gondola. Walking often meant going out of your way to cross I-5 (on Denny). In contrast, this gondola — while direct — does not offer much more than an express bus. In the middle of the day, there isn’t that much traffic — which means that an express bus would be faster (depending on the type of gondola, and the time it takes to get to the platform). But most of all, there simply aren’t that many people. By the way, the idea of the gondola for Capitol Hill/South Lake Union/Seattle Center kind of died as the 8 became a lot faster.
But again, the main problem is just lack of density around the stations and lack of density overall. Places like Kent may have started around the station, but they didn’t grow based on them, like European cities. Even if the area around the station develops, the city won’t be dense. The vast majority of people in Kent, for example, will not live within walking distance of the station (Link or Sounder). I’m not saying they do in other cities, either. But the cities themselves are very dense, which means transit is a lot more popular. For example, this is the city of Würzburg: https://goo.gl/maps/Xs1TMZvyxLf8GJjX8. It has roughly the same population as Kent. It isn’t small, either. It is connected by rail to various other towns, and has plenty of buses. There are freeways, and big, wide expressways. It doesn’t seem that different than Kent.
It is only when you zoom in that you see the difference (https://goo.gl/maps/tXeAwYysMAxEjPfj6). There are dense neighborhoods and farmland — and not much else. There are dozens of neighborhoods with a lot more population density than the most densely populated neighborhood in Kent. As a result, it is just a lot easier for people to get around by transit — whether within the city, or to more distant locations. It sucks that Kent (and Auburn, and most of suburban Seattle) is way too low density to support the kind of transit they have in other cities, but it is. The best way to serve low density areas like that is with bus service, and the occasional, relatively cheap commuter rail.
Yes, Al, buses are faster along the highway, but as Mike pointed out, currently they would get stuck in traffic both around I-5 and snaking into downtown Kent. A gondola along S240th would be far more direct and wouldn’t have to worry about traffic or lights. It would go for 2.8mi straight across the river and directly up the hill and over I-5 whereas the shortest road connection is 4.3mi. I brought this up as Mike proposed a new bus only bridge across I-5 which would probably cost as much as building a gondola.
I agree, Ross, though technically a Kent gondola may make sense, the big question is whether there is enough density unless Metro plans other lines (such as along Hwy 167) to serve Kent station which may benefit from a connection with Link – not just downtown, but towards Tacoma, Seatac etc
If that would be the case, a high frequency gondola connection could make a 3 seat ride far more attractive than if I have to wait 10min for the next bus.
“Mike proposed a new bus only bridge across I-5”
You proposed that. I never heard of it until then. A bus-only bridge would have the same problem as the direct-access ramps at Lynnwood transit center do: roads and ramps for vehicles take more space than a rail track or gondola, and they’re concrete and ugly.
I’m sorry, Mike, you did not, but TT proposed the bus-only bridge on S240th, unfortunately his response got moved further down
“The 150 could be faster though. It takes a pretty indirect route once it hits Tukwila. The obvious reason is there simply aren’t that many people going back and forth from Kent to downtown Seattle (unlike, say, Renton). It is just too expensive to run express buses all day.”
Beware of assuming the current network is the optimal network. It’s just inertia from the 1970s, a limited number of hours to serve all South King County, Metro’s arbitrary decisions. There should be an all-government effort to prioritize transit. Then it would be adequately funded, there would be an all-day express, etc.
“there simply aren’t that many people going back and forth from Kent to downtown Seattle”
There would be more if it didn’t take an hour. It should take 20-30 minutes. This gets multiplied if you’re starting from say East Hill and going to another part of Seattle or to Bellevue. That’s a three-seat ride and can take two hours. No wonder people don’t do it, or drive instead of taking transit.
“unlike, say, Renton”
I see higher ridership on the 150 than on the Renton routes.
I agree, Mike, a gondola line to serve Harborview along Jefferson, would probably be the most attractive line in Seattle as it would avoid all the I-5 mess. You might even extend it to Broadway. It would be a great way to connect First Hill, the CH streetcar, and even the Southern portion of Yesler Terrace with Link at Pioneer Sq and the 3rd Ave bus lines.
Martin, or anyone else, if you could decide the site for a gondola in King County, where would you put it? With the provision that one end of the gondola has to go to a current or future Link station.
Sam, Seattle is the 2nd hilliest city in the nation with many water to cross, plenty opportunities for gondola lines but in terms of priorities, I think light rail for West Seattle is the wrong technology and far too expensive, but if Sound Transit and Metro are concerned that buses will start bunching, a gondola line could serve the hills much better and potentially be expanded to serve South Seattle College, the Duwamish Longhouse, or even High Point.
If Sound Transit gets concerned about tunneling under the ship canal, they could also run a gondola between Old Ballard and Interbay and run an automated train to Westlake.
For Seattle proper I think the Harborview line makes sense and a gondola line could also serve Belltown from the waterfront along Bell St / Denny / John and connect the Ballard line with the 1 Line and Kaiser hospital connecting not only Belltown but Amazon buildings, too, and increase frequency/capacity on the 8 corridor.
Outside of Seattle, besides Kent / KDM, there is Southcenter to TIBS, and South Bellevue to Factoria and Eastgate, and 85th to Kirkland downtown.
I’ve not had lots of experience with SR 516 Kent traffic or bus speeds, but I haven’t seen it that prone to massive delays like I-5 or SR 167. Metro 162 schedule says they estimate about 14-16 minutes to go from Kent Station to the I-5 ramps using Meeker St at peak times.
No, Mike didn’t “propose a bus-only bridge across I-5”. I proposed a bus-only bridge across I-5 at 240th. And it’s a good idea that I’ve tried to get people to think about for three years.
Martin, most of the routes you mention are not appropriate for continuous motion gondolas, which need supports fairly frequently; they have heights that are more like the aerial tramway at OHSU in Portland. Going from SoDo Station, say, across the Duwamish Waterway you have to leave as much clearance as the High Bridge does. Those would be tall supports. There is a significant portion of the riding public who would never get on such a thing bobbing around in the wind.
Capitol Hill to SLU and LQA? Sure, but even then the supports in the eastern end of SLU would be pretty tall.
So far as Pioneer Square Station to Harborview, a funicular would be much more appropriate and attract many more riders.
Tom and Al, not sure you keep up on gondola systems, they have evolved quite a bit in the last years why more cities in Europe are looking at the technology. Just last month Doppelmayr announced that they combined the technology of their larger 3S system (like they used for Whistler’s Peak to Peak service) with their small urban single-rope systems into the TRI-Line technology, check out: https://youtu.be/qiG0omTX9ak https://newsroom.doppelmayr.com/en/doppelmayr/press/doppelmayr-presents-new-ropeway-system/
That way they can offer comfortable, stable, ADA compliant, and wind-resistant, high frequency/capacity systems with up to 8000 riders per hour in each direction. It also allows long spans and high towers which can cross the Duwamish or I-5 and requires little construction/disruption on the ground and fairly small terminals.
While we’re on a The Urbanist bent.
Going over to the\ir article on the new RR lines, I feel that the RRB split, the RR36/49, the RR150, the RR 40 and the RR 44. But with the caveat of everything (except the RRB “East”) having 10-minute headways or better.
I didn’t feel like linking to the Sounder article, mainly because I disagree strongly with it :). Seriously though, I agree very much with the first part of the article. Spending a huge amount of money on bigger platforms and longer trains would be crazy, given that we may never need it.
But pouring all that money into extra train service would also be a huge waste. Sounder service is expensive. The costs go up the more we add trains. That is because the railroad charges more per train the more we use it. Ridership is very peak oriented, and doesn’t respond well to additional frequency. The trains in the middle of the day are very expensive to run, and have very few riders, making them a very bad value. We would be much better off just adding bus service.
Generally agree, but why do you think ridership doesn’t respond well to additional frequency? Seems to me ridership would respond well to a boost from 20 minute to 15 minute frequency, whether it’s an express bus route or a commuter train.
Seems to me ridership would respond well to a boost from 20 minute to 15 minute frequency, whether it’s an express bus route or a commuter train.
The closer you are to your destination, the more important frequency is. A trip a mile down the road is heavily influenced by frequency. If it is terrible, than some other mode becomes attractive. In contrast, a trip to Portland is unlikely to be influenced by whether a train runs every hour or half hour. Commuter rail tends to be more like a trip to Portland. Frequency matters, just not that much. That is how commuter rail evolved in the first place. It became too expensive to run trains in the middle of the day, since very few people rode them.
We’ve seen this when Sounder has added trains. There has been a bump in ridership, but much smaller than when a local bus increases frequency.
There is frequency and there is frequency.
Until recently it had no runs out of Tacoma Dome between 7:50am and 4:06pm, weekdays. And nada on weekends.
That’s not infrequent. That’s non-existent for anybody for the commuter or reverse commuter.
Therefore, I never even consider it, except as a lark. It’s not usable transit.
Pretty much, Sounder has the potential to be a good S Bahn like line but doesn’t want to fully commit to it Even though it’d probably be a heavily used line if it was.
Until recently it had no runs out of Tacoma Dome between 7:50am and 4:06pm, weekdays. And nada on weekends.
That’s not infrequent. That’s non-existent for anybody for the commuter or reverse commuter.
Right. Riders have to take the bus. So it isn’t like the lack of trains in the middle of the day really matter. You can still take the commuter train in the morning towards Seattle, and take the bus back in the middle of the day. Thus the poor frequency of the train really doesn’t hurt the performance of the train when it does run.
It is worth noting that before the pandemic, reverse commuting and midday trains were so empty that a bus could have handled the load. That’s the point. You can run these trains all you want and very few people will ride them outside of peak direction. The trains headed to Seattle at 4:30 and 5:15 carried about 60 people. This was before the pandemic. Imagine how many they will carry at noon or 1:30 PM? This is the type of frequency that is nowhere near spontaneous, while still costing a bundle. The subsidy per rider would end up being enormous.
It is simply a much better value to run more buses, or look into other transit infrastructure investments.
If there existed an express bus that ran all day, the lack of all day sounder service would be less of a big deal, but there isn’t. You either make the trip during the very narrow window in which sounder is operating, or you spend an hour each way getting there instead of 20 minutes. That’s the problem.
From my perspective, the ideal would be no express buses stuck interminably on I-5 traffic. No TDLE weaving lazily for an hour and a half through the Rainier Valley.
Pour resources instead into just a fast, hourly trains from center city Tacoma (or Dome, I suppose) to center city Seattle (or King St, I suppose), with maybe 3 or 4 of the highest boarding stops in between (Puyallup, Sumner, Kent, Auburn).
No stop in S. Tacoma. No stop in Lakewood (Build out a grid of RRs to get them to Tacoma Station). No Tukwila (served by link). Certainly no extension to Dupont. At least for a couple of decades.
Speed it up. Make it frequent so it’s folks first thought, not their last thought to get between cities. Make it reliable. Bring it to 45 minutes or less from city center to city center and it will get used. A lot.
The only way you can get 45 minutes from downtown Tacoma to downtown Seattle is if you run a bus or a high speed train. Sounder (and freight trains) follow an indirect route. It actually heads south initially. Then it heads well east of both Tacoma and Seattle, before it swings back around to either city. It is unfortunate — just a sad relic of the lava flow from thousands of years ago (without that, Federal Way/West Seattle would be a big island). The train follows the flatland from that lava flow, instead of taking a more direct route up and over hills like the freeway.
It would be much cheaper to make the buses faster. Change HOV 2 to HOV 3. Add ramps from downtown Tacoma to the HOV lanes. Do the same thing up north, connecting the HOV lanes to the SoDo busway (WSDOT actually had that on their todo list, but they’ve never gotten around to it). Do that and you would be quite fast — faster than just about any rail investment that can realistically be expected. It is one thing to imagine trains running as fast as they do on the East Coast — it is another to imagine we will have Japanese bullet trains.
You still wouldn’t get that many people though. The average speed of the existing express buses is actually quite high. It is not what I would call frequent, but at every half hour, quite good for city-to-city travel (this is much better than the average Pierce County transit bus). Yet before the pandemic (and after), a typical slow Seattle bus got way more people. Proximity + density = ridership. There just aren’t that many people going between Seattle and Tacoma (and Tacoma lacks density). There is no way you could fill a train if you ran it every half hour, even if it was really fast.
I often wonder if the prospect of an unrealistic, futuristic vision stops us from achieving what would be very good and quite cheap. Some day we will have bullet trains to Portland, with stops to Tacoma. We will build a metro to Tacoma — like BART only slower. Total BS. What we really need is to convince people to change HOV-2 to HOV-3. As long as we keep holding out for this unrealistic vision of the distant future, we keep screwing us out of what is achievable tomorrow.
@Cam Solomon, you don’t even need to get rid of stops, as Electrification and level boarding would get travel times down to that level. If you speed things up too, you could actually add more stops to the line.
This is because Electerfication and Level boarding reduce stopping penalties.
“It would be much cheaper to make the buses faster. Change HOV 2 to HOV 3. ”
Sure. And it will also never happen.
At least with a train, politicians aren’t likely to tear up the tracks. They are also extremely unlikely to allow a decrease in capacity on the state’s most congested route.
“It would be much cheaper to make the buses faster. Change HOV 2 to HOV 3. ”
Sure. And it will also never happen.
But you think fast, hourly trains from Tacoma to Seattle will? Come on man. The cost per rider is huge. You don’t add cost and service when you have declining ridership. I realize you suggested this as an “ideal”, and aren’t expecting this to ever happen, but the Urbanist is exercising Seattle-Subway style dreaming when they come up with stuff. They are completely ignoring the cost, which actually goes up (per trip) the more service we add.
In contrast, it is quite possible that the HOV lanes change. The main reason there is no political pressure to change the HOV lanes is because people hold out these crazy rail fantasies. They either haven’t done the math (Link won’t be that fast, and the freight lines are indirect) or they dream of high speed rail or some other extremely costly fantasy.
You are also throwing some pretty large cities between Tacoma and Seattle, that don’t happen to be on I-5, under the literal bus. Or relegating to some weird 2 hour gondola transfer odyssey/fantasy.
Ha, no, I’m not the gondola guy. As for the cities in between, the Seattle to Tacoma bus should stop at Federal Way, and then keep going to downtown Seattle. Link should terminate in Federal Way. That allows the express buses to get to Seattle without ever leaving the HOV lanes (Federal Way has bidirectional HOV ramps). Riders going to any Link destination in between would simply transfer. Heading to the airport, or Rainier Valley? Transfer in Federal Way. Heading to downtown Seattle, the UW, Capitol Hill? Stay on the bus. Most of the day this would be faster than the train.
Less common trips (e. g. Tacoma to Kent) would require a three-seat ride. Big deal. None of the cities south of Seattle have much around the station. Most aren’t even very centralized at all. The one city that is — the one city that has a strong (and growing) downtown – doesn’t have a Sounder station downtown, and even if Link goes that far, won’t serve it. If you are going from downtown Tacoma to a typical destination in Kent, you will have to make two transfers no matter what you do. With buses at least the transfers are quick. You wouldn’t have to deal with an hourly train (at the middle of the trip, no less). Your middle connection is Link, which for all of its faults, at least runs every ten minutes in the middle of the day. Now that Link is serving the north end, I’ve done a lot of three-seat rides (to much shorter distances) — it isn’t that bad. From places like Auburn and Kent, they can take a bus to Federal Way, then this express to downtown, or Link for the destinations in between. For Tukwila, they can connect to Link or take buses downtown. This is all you need in the middle of the day because there simply aren’t that many people taking transit in the middle of the day. Buses are much cheaper to run, and if you are going to heavily subsidize these sorts of trips, then it makes sense to run more buses. Simply put, you can provide way more service for way less money.
You are also throwing some pretty large cities between Tacoma and Seattle, that don’t happen to be on I-5, under the literal bus. Or relegating to some weird 2 hour gondola transfer odyssey/fantasy.
It’s about 38 track miles from Tacoma to Seattle. The current timetable for Amtrak is about 55 minutes. Getting between the two in 45 minutes shouldn’t require any sort of rocket propelled train. Stuff like Berlin’s RE-1 are the equivalent of what Sounder is, averages about 70 mph including station stops with a maximum speed of 100 mph. The line through the Kent valley is straight and level, and 100 mph isn’t out of reach, and really would not be surprising if in decades past the line had seen passenger trains move that fast prior to the 79 mph standardized limit. Many lines that straight did.
The issue is trying to eliminate the places where problems exist that reduce the speed. Obviously you can’t do much about the curve in Puyallup but that’s *one* curve. The FRA allows grade crossings on lines up to 110 mph, but some of the more congested areas should probably be dealt with.
In short, $2 billion into that line rather than Tacoma – Seattle link might have produced a really interesting result.
I’m not talking about Kent to Tacoma. Though that would be nice for selfish reasons, I understand that’s a low-demand route. I’m talking about Kent (and Auburn and Puyallup) to Seattle. That’s where a lot of those who do the jobs that make Seattle go live.
Kent alone is a city nearly the size of Bellevue, and growing twice as fast. The Sounder stops right downtown, from what I can tell. Maybe there is a part of town that’s slightly more dense, but it appears the past and potential growth is mostly walking distance from the station.
Right now it’s an hour or more bus ride from Kent to Seattle. And 20 minutes by Sounder.
Bellevue gets billions to do some crazy crossing on a floating bridge every 8 minutes, and Kent doesn’t even get a train on existing track upped to once an hour, because it costs too much? Don’t you see any equity issues here?
“Bellevue gets billions to do some crazy crossing on a floating bridge every 8 minutes, and Kent doesn’t even get a train on existing track upped to once an hour, because it costs too much? Don’t you see any equity issues here?”
Cam, it is called subarea equity. Your beef is not with Bellevue or East King Co. It is with S. King Co. I would also like to see the number of riders from Kent taking the train to Seattle. I just got through driving through most of southeast King/Pierce Co. yesterday along 167, 161, 512, Sumner, Auburn, Lakewood, you name it, and there is no density anywhere. The SFH zones I can understand, but the commercial and retail “zoning” along highways and “stroads” is awful, but unlikely to change. At the same time I saw no transit whatsoever, and was able to drive from Lakewood to Mercer Island at 4 pm in 45 minutes. Is a 30 minute train on leased tracks from Kent to downtown Seattle really the best use of S. King Co.’s very limited subarea revenue?
Of course I agree with you East Link is looking more and more like a dud, and I think Bellevue always thought that which is why it travels along 112th and will have low ridership too.
I don’t have a beef with the east side of King County. I rarely even consider the east side. The rich are gonna rich.
I am advocating for both areas having quality transit service. Given that there are already tracks going right into downtown Kent that appear to be very under-utilized, it seems like a no-brainer to use them, given the size of Kent. It is one of the last vaguely affordable areas left in King County, and if there was a fast, frequent train, I’m sure density would come.
“You don’t add cost and service when you have declining ridership”
I mean saying “see it’s failing from our hollowing out of service, we shouldn’t invest in it” when ST has whacked it in the legs in terms of frequency and service length during the pandemic. Setting up transit to fail is a self fulfilling prophecy and doesn’t make the argument about not investing in it not look so strong in my opinion. I’d also point out that said express buses get stuck in traffic on I-5 and just crawl on their way down to Federal Way and the Kent/Auburn Valley. I know this all too well from my experience riding the South Sound buses during rush hour from my time living in both Tacoma and Auburn. I’d also point out that a train is a lot more comfortable than the bus, which people care about as well in terms of using transit.
“There just aren’t that many people going between Seattle and Tacoma (and Tacoma lacks density). ”
I mean looking at the maps, the city is fairly dense. So this argument about it lacking density is a bit of a nothingburger.
The 594 seems less used than comparable routes like the 512, 550, and 577/578. It’s a single bus (not articulated), which is odd for what seems like it should be one of the four biggest routes, connecting a sizeable city and Pierce County the region. But the 512 and 550 are articulated and more frequent, while the 594 is not. It may be just that Tacoma is further away so it takes longer to get there, and Pierce County has more of a pro-car sentiment.
I agree Cam, if the subarea has the money and it is the best use of that money go for it. Ross says the travel time is better if frequency were better.
The infrastructure exists. I just don’t know how many do and can (tools) commute from Kent to downtown by transit. I know commuting to downtown is way down on the Eastside. Can commuting from Kent still be strong?
I am always suspect of dreams of density in southeast King Co. and Pierce Co. But the subarea leaders know better than I do.
Mike: the problem with the 594 is it comes out of Lakewood, and my experience is it is extremely unreliable. Several times I took it it was 20 minutes late.
This is why in times past I’ve advocated for Tacoma to DuPont be some sort of railed transit using the rebuilt main line. There’s little freight traffic and would be faster and more reliable if it were DMU type car plus 1 Bombardier coach.
I don’t think there’s enough political will for bus lanes to DuPont or Olympia.
Lakewood to Tacoma on the 594 is where I’d see most delays happen from my time using the bus. I just checked the Transit app and it gave a on time reliability rate of 65% for the 594 and 69% for 574 which is not great and also not surprising from how bad I-5 is through Tacoma and Lakewood and buses being slowed down by stoplights and street traffic. I still remember back in 2014 or 2015 where quarter to half hour delays were fairly common on both the 594/574.some days and you had to accept it if you weren’t able to take the Sounder.
Cam, the vast majority of people who live in Kent do so up on East Hill, way too far to walk to the Sounder Station. Yes, downtown has a cluster of apartments around the station, but other than that it’s a classic American small city in thrall to the private car. That’s why there are so few people on the 150 headed for Seattle in the middle of the day and it has to go through Bum*!#k Egypt to pick up enough people to justify running it at the next shake-up.
When it takes an hour to go 15 miles, of course. Especially when you add in a likely transfer on 1 or both ends.
I wouldn’t take the 150 from Kent unless I had absolutely no alternative. Would you?
We force people to be “in thrall” to the car. We
Provide them no legitimate alternative.
I’m talking about Kent (and Auburn and Puyallup) to Seattle.
That is even easier: Express Buses! As I wrote down below, you seem to be ignoring why the 150 is not anything like the 101. The 101 follows almost the exact path that a driver would. This begs the question, which I will now put in bold:
Why is the 101 so direct from Renton, while the 150 is so indirect from Kent?
or, to put it another way:
Why can’t Kent have an express bus like the 101?
The simple answer is: not enough people ride transit from downtown Kent to Seattle. Yes, I realize this is a bit of a chicken-egg problem. They don’t use it because it sucks. But it also sucks because people won’t use it. There are lots and lots of buses in Seattle that suck. The 3/4 is constantly stuck in traffic. Until recently, the 8 was too. Same with the 44. Yet huge numbers of people ride these buses because there are huge numbers of people taking these trips throughout the day. That just isn’t the case in Kent, and will never be the case in Kent, no matter how heavily subsidized the transit is there.
The problem is density (as well as proximity). Kent is small and sprawling. You can see this on the census maps. The area around the station has less than 6,000 people per square mile. Southwest Magnolia has more than that. Areas of Seattle that urbanists complain about because they are “nothing but single family homes” have more population density than the area surrounding the Kent Station. Then there is employment density. It may appear that the justice center is a major employer, but it isn’t, even for Kent. If you look at employment density, that too is spread out. Look at the website for employment data (https://onthemap.ces.census.gov/) and select the city of Kent, WA. Make sure to include government jobs (not just private jobs) when you do the analysis. Notice there are five areas in Kent itself that are equal to the level of employment density there. Now back up and do the same thing for the county. It is just like the population density data. From a county perspective, the area by the station has low population density and low employment density. No wonder the 150 doesn’t take a direct path to the Kent Station — the bulk of the potential riders aren’t there.
You can also use OnTheMap to figure out where people are commuting to. Long story short, not that many people go from Kent to Seattle, and not that many go from Seattle to Kent. If you isolate the area around the station, it gets even smaller. I don’t want to pick on Kent. You look at the other stations, and it is similar. This isn’t Europe.
Then there are the Sounder trains themselves. Prior to the pandemic, Sounder ran trains peak direction and reverse peak direction. Based on all the census data, and every city in the United States, you would expect peak direction to be most popular, followed by reverse peak, then midday. The problem is, reverse peak gets hardly anything. They ran three trains reverse peak, and averaged about a bus load per train. The more trains you run, the more riders you get, but the less you get *per train*. Thus you would be running trains with maybe 40 people on board, but paying for extremely expensive train service. Not only because these are huge vehicles, but because we don’t own the tracks (making costs *per train* higher the more often we run them).
If you read the comments here, you will find that lots of people talk harshly about North Sounder. They consider it a terrible waste of money. They point to the per rider costs as being extremely high. All of that is true. But *reverse peak* South Sounder performs about half as well as North Sounder. Half! Midday service — running just often enough to be extremely expensive, but not often enough to be convenient — would perform much worse.
Look, you want to argue for better midday express bus service around the various stations as a way to complement the commuter trains, be my guest. I’ve got no problem with that. They won’t perform as well as an average Metro bus, but ST runs a lot of very poorly performing buses. It is well within their M. O. to provide high quality long-distance service to a handful of riders while the bulk of the population is making shorter trips. But running far more expensive trains, carrying no more people than a bus is just nuts.
Excellent post Ross.
“That is even easier: Express Buses!”
I take it you’ve never ridden the 578, the slow meandering bus that connects Puyallup-Sumner-Auburn to Seattle that takes almost 2 hours to get to Seattle from Puyallup. I repeat 2 hours, that’s not remotely fast or reliable. Whereas the Sounder only takes about 40 minutes. Or Kent for that matter is only 20 minutes away on Sounder compared to the 60-75 minute bus ride on the 150. You give people fast and reliable transit people will ride it.
Ross, Ross, the 101 takes 40 minutes to Renton TC. The 150 takes 52 minutes to Kent Station in the off-hours, and over an hour midday and peak. It’s harder to fit an hour-long trip into your schedule, plus half an hour to get to Kent Station and wait twice, plus maybe a third seat at the other end, and to do all of that again for the return trip. Not many people can do that, or are willing to. A trip to Renton takes only part of an hour, so it’s easier to do. What’s especially jarring is it takes only 15 minutes to drive to Kent without traffic, or 20 minutes on Sounder. That’s the kind of travel time we should have all day for a city as large and central and diverse and transit-riding as Kent. The local Kent buses have more riders, partly because as John Bail said, “Most transit trips that start in Kent end in Kent”, and because the 150 just takes too long to be feasible in many cases.
I’m more inclined to downgrade the 101 than the 150. It gets fewer riders in my experience. It could be truncated at Rainier Beach.
You can’t just give people unacceptable transit service, which they don’t ride because it’s unacceptable, and argue there’s no transit market because they won’t ride this barely-useable route. I think other countries, if they had a city like Kent 15 miles from the primary city center, with a lot of industrial jobs, would have an all-day express to it. Their land use would be better, and that would intrinsically increase ridership, but they’d also recognize the need to serve the city as-is if necessary.
Mike, I haven’t taken the 150 in a while, but intermittently my partner and I go to/through Renton on the 101. This is generally on the weekends but our experience has been that the 101 is decently used. Even in early 2021 (pre-COVID vax for most people), there was a weekend when we came back from Renton and over half the seats were taken on the 101. Looking at the annual service evaluation for 2021, while the 150 performs modestly better than the 101 during peak, they’re comparable off-peak and the 101 actually solidly out-performs the 150 at night.
Sending the 101 to RBS is an interesting idea, given that MLK basically turns into SR-900 and would avoid putting the bus into I-5 traffic. I wonder if that would be fast enough that Metro could just turn the bus around without laying over, and just loop straight back to Renton.
Mike, your argument is there is a well of potential bus riders from “downtown” Kent to downtown Seattle who would switch from driving to the bus if the bus were faster, although the bus is always going to be about twice as slow as driving from station to station.
Ross’s argument as I understand it is the population density around the Kent station — which he does a good job documenting — and Kent itself since most move to Kent for a SFH — and IMO the work demographic — suggest there isn’t that well of potential bus riders to downtown Seattle, because now you have to add in first/last mile access that now makes a bus from Kent to Seattle maybe three times longer than driving, if you are a white collar worker living in Kent (which pretty much means SFH zone far from the station) who still works in downtown Seattle when even Eastsiders have left.
If the argument is even the very few riders need better frequency and trip times that is a valid argument if money is not an issue. If money is an issue, than Ross’s point as I understand it is you must cut somewhere else which will make transit worse for many more riders on another line than you will benefit on the 150.
The final argument I often see on this blog is build it and they will come. Or zone Kent like Capitol Hill and white collar workers in Seattle will move to Kent for the hip urban multi-family scene, although a committed urbanist like yourself doesn’t plan on moving to downtown Kent no matter how good transit service is.
That just is not what Kent is or will be. It isn’t the speed of the 550: it is that not many Kent residents work in downtown Seattle, and Kent has no desire to modify its zoning because even if it did it wouldn’t result in some vibrant downtown scene of downtown Seattle is struggling with retail density.
The point of Kent and it’s growth is it is near several north/south highways and a SFH is more affordable there. Offer a Kent resident a SFH in Clyde Hill or Issaquah and they would probably accept. It is just very, very difficult to get this demographic to take transit, and they are not going to change their SFH zoning because that is why they live in Kent and you live in downtown Seattle, and no matter how Kent zones it’s “downtown” the magical retail vibrancy won’t happen because not many people(urbanists) want to live in multi-family housing in Kent if they don’t have to. After all, how many staff at The Urbanist live in Kent when they spend their lives complaining about the cost of housing in Seattle?
Kent from my experience riding Sounder was an important transit node in connecting many passangers onto busses that went to places like East Hill, Covington, and Maple Valley. A good chunk of passangers would get off at this stop from my experience and either head for their car in the car park or the busses to head East up the hill. The ridership does exist but has never unlocked it’s full potential in my opinion.
“Mike, your argument is there is a well of potential bus riders from “downtown” Kent to downtown Seattle”
People travel both ways at all hours for lots ofreasons. Usually they aren’t starting from “downtown” Kent, but as Jarrett Walker says, the transit network forces them to transfer there, so they board the 150 at Kent Station even if they didn’t start from there.
“who would switch from driving to the bus if the bus were faster”
It’s also for existing bus riders. The bus should have a reasonable travel time based on the cities’ sizes, distance, demographics, and travel patterns. I argue that should be a 20-30 minute express bus or train.
Kent has geographic challenges, so I’m not expecting a bus to really meet the 20-minute threshold, but Metro and the governments should really make an effort to get close to it, and to give transit the resources it needs to do so. Kent isn’t unique, but its size, centrality, equity, ridership, and industrial jobs argue for higher priority like Issaquah and Bothell have.
South King County has a larger population than Seattle. Most of them live east of I-5. Link is west of I-5. The area is so wide that one north-south line can’t serve all of it, so you need at least three lines, one in the 99 corridor, one in the Kent Valley, and one in Renton. Going from Kent or Renton to Seattle via Link will never be great, because Link takes 28 minutes just to get to Rainier Beach, or 45 minutes to KDM. That gives zero minutes to transfer and take an east-west bus to Kent Station within a reasonable travel time, or even as fast as the existing 150. That’s why the 150 is needed, and really there should be an express too. Still, we should at least try with an east-west RapidRide to KDM on KDM Road (the fastest way to the station), to get at least some good connection to Link, and because some are going to non-downtown Link stations.
The 101 is likewise geographically-challenged: truncating it at Rainier Beach would add 6-10 minutes to travel time in addition to the transfer, because of how Link’s surface segments slow it down. Kent has it worse because Link goes both west to east (SODO to Mt Baker) and east-to-west (Rainier Beach to TIB). Renton has only the first part, and you’d have to go east anyway because Renton is east.
And now for something really amazing: if West Seattle Link were extended to Burien and Renton, Renton-Westlake travel time would be 40 minutes, the same as the current 101! Even with a detour to West Seattle. Because it would be fully grade-separated.
“most move to Kent for a SFH”
You don’t understand Kent. A lot of people move to Kent apartments because they can’t afford Seattle or Eastside apartments.
“If the argument is even the very few riders need better frequency and trip times that is a valid argument if money is not an issue. If money is an issue, than Ross’s point as I understand it is you must cut somewhere else which will make transit worse for many more riders on another line than you will benefit on the 150.”
That is the argument. Ideally there should be an express. Kent deserves an express. But we can’t take it out of local Kent routes or local Seattle routes because they’re needed too. The answer is to expand the pie. We should raise our service levels to at least the average of industrialized countries. That means prioritizing transit and raising taxes to fund it. The county has recognized since 2016 that Metro Connects is needed, and it intends to schedule a levy for it sometime, but it still hasn’t done so.
Mike, I wonder how often the 101/150 get stuck in traffic.
If a Duwamish bypass would get built, the 101 and 150 could be terminated at TIBS and reach downtown more quickly. The RV line could then be redirected to serve Renton which creates another 101/150 termination opportunity but you’re right that Link through RV gets slowed down as it is at grade, I still think it would be possible to build underpasses in key locations so that it would run in dedicated ROW.
In the meantime, an East/West connection to KDM would be very useful, even just for people working at the airport, but even if as a RR line the wait/transfer time would make it unattractive while a continuous gondola connection would be more reliable and predictable.
Martin, a gondola is a very specific transit mode that works better than other modes in limited number of situations. By over-suggesting a gondola as a solution to every problem, I think it lessens your effectiveness. I would limit your advocacy to just a few locations in the county where a gondola really makes sense.
Thanks, Sam, for the advice, I do agree that gondolas for example do not allow for long lines. Seattle has a lot of hills and there are many hilly East/West connections which would benefit from frequent transit connections. Some people may even want to put their bike on it to go uphill.
I currently focus my advocacy on the West Seattle SkyLink project.
Gondolas are better to connect a few high demand stations over topographical challenges (water, hills, major roads…). With the recent challenges to hire drivers, gondolas also have become more attractive as they can provide automated frequent all-day service using clean energy and require less construction and therefore embedded carbon than many other modes. Which of the lines I mentioned do you think would not be good gondola lines?
South Sounder has been discussed for decades. Today, it is similar to the other peak routes serving office work; ridership has tanked. The Urbanist is correct, it does provide a speed and reliability advantage to several city centers (Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila). The issue is the monopoly power of the BNSFRR; they do not have to sell track time in the midday. A solution could be to get WSDOT, ST, BN, and UP together and shift some midday freight traffic to the UP track to make room for two-way all-day Sounder. The current consists are costly to operate. (DMU?). The MBTA has all-day commuter rail. Europe does.
Gondolas would be perfect for Venice, with all its “waterways”, don’t you think?
In trying to think of places a gondola could go, I run into the problem where a place where a gondola might make great geographical sense, might not achieve very high ridership. And a location where a gondola would get high ridership, a gondola might not be the best mode solution.
If I were looking for a location for a gondola — despite the fact I think the lack of familiarity of gondolas with the transit agencies in the region is always going to be a problem — I would look for locations in which the gondola went from destination to destination and not just as a transfer to another mode of transit, there isn’t a very good current alternative, the gondola would be faster than an existing mode like buses, and the cost is better than proposed alternatives. It should also solve the issue of a steep slope or going over water. It wouldn’t hurt if the view was dramatic.
That pretty much leaves West Seattle to CID. The problem with First Hill, which is steep and so meets that criterion, is the gondola will always be the final (second or third) transfer, and the 630 suggests that is not an attractive transfer.
Since I have no idea about the economics of gondolas — or what route it would take from WS to CID and the vested interests (port, Coast Guard along the way) I am not sure if the gondola is cheaper and faster than buses today (although I am sure it is cheaper than WSBLE). The West Seattle Bridge is very fast for cars and buses. I also am not sure how many West Seattleites actually travel to downtown Seattle today. The linked numbers on ridership, or what SDOT hoped would be ridership per mode, during the bridge closure suggest not many West Seattleites do commute directly downtown, and cars will always be the preferred mode, especially if congestion stays reduced. But with the bridge open and buses getting around 20,000 riders/day, that is the main competition for a gondola and with buses the infrastructure costs are done.
Gondolas have the same problem as Link: its route is fixed, and as we have learned travel patterns change. It also requires first/last mile access, and unlike a bus usually has few stops so where do the park and rides in WS go?
I think most in the region including the agencies view gondolas as mostly an amusement ride, like the once proposed gondola from the waterfront to the convention center, which I thought was a clever idea and would be popular with tourists, except the once hoped for retail mall from the convention center to Pike Place Market looks unlikely and retail in that area is declining. It would have connected with Link at Westlake, except it really is not one destination to another unless you count ferries and water taxis.
I think any kind of gondola outside the city core — like Kent — will never happen, unless maybe a city like Tacoma wanted a statement piece to separate itself. Other than West Seattle to CID — which has the advantage of saving billions in WSBLE and avoiding a second station at CID — I can’t think of any other place the local agencies would even consider a gondola. But my guess is a gondola would compete poorly with buses from WS, just like Link does.
Two options aside from WS Skytrain that struck me as plausible
1. SLU-Cap Hill as an additional crossing of I5 north of Denny.. Hard to justify over simply improving the 8 or investing in a good stair climb.
2. Waterfront to Westlake station. Similar to the Monorail, could get good ridership functioning as both a tourist attraction and a useful piece of transit infrastructure. There was a private proposal by the owner of the waterfront wheel, and I always thought it was compelling if there was a private operator willing the front some of the capex or opex.
Sam, I proposed a few gondola lines, do you think any of them don’t meet the topography requirements or don’t meet the ridership threshold you have in mind?
Daniel, I believe gondola lines could be great feeders for light rail (such as connecting from WS to Link at CID and SODO). Unlike the 630 bus, they run continuously meaning you don’t lose time waiting for a connection. In Medellin, Switzerland, France… they build the gondola station right on top of the rail station which minimizes walk time.
As WS ridership increases, you will need more buses, larger OMF, more drivers, more maintenance, and at some point bunching slows down the buses, that would be the time to build a gondola. Yes, it would cost a fraction of WSLE. No, you don’t need parking as you could redirect the bus hours and spread them across WS to pick people up close to home.
AJ, why not combine these two lines into one and connect on CapHill instead of Westlake with Link? Then you would have a gondola going from the Bell St pier up through Belltown along Bell St / Denny / John. It would connect the Ballard line with the 1 Line and Kaiser hospital connecting not only Belltown but Amazon buildings. May be Amazon would even help fund it.
Daniel/AJ, gondola manufacturers often offer build&operate contracts, that way the transit (or ski) operator doesn’t need to have their own expertise.
A gondola from Admiral Viewpoint to Capital Hill Station with stops at the waterfront, Pike Place, Westlake and SLU.
As long as we are discussing crazy ideas.
Make it detachable and high-speed, and crank it up to 15 mph. Make the trip if 15 or 20 minutes?
And here’s a vision even bigger than Seattle Subway’s.
Also, the RJC is a large employer, and has a large daily influx of workers and those using the court services daily, at all times of day. An hourly train would be a huge benefit to both staff and clients.
I have a buddy who worked down on 4th in downtown Seattle, and he discovered how wonderful taking link in from the south end was. He loved it, and he fell in love with transit.
Then he got transfered to Kent, and he’s back “in thrall” to the automobile.
An hourly train would be a huge benefit to both staff and clients.
No, it wouldn’t. Very few people ride Sounder, even during rush hour. There is a reason why Metro does not offer the equivalent of the 101 for Kent. Not enough people are going back and forth. If you can’t justify an all-day express train, you sure as hell can’t justify a much more expensive, but less frequent train.
Metro Connects has an all-day express to Kent. It just isn’t funded yet. This is a clear case of underservice.
This is a clear case of underservice.
I wouldn’t call it underservice. Check out the Metro system evaluation, prior to the pandemic: https://kingcounty.gov/~/media/depts/metro/accountability/pdf/2019/system-evaluation.pdf. Now scroll to the section about performance per route (page 25). Look at some of the express buses from the south end (roughly 157 to 197). They all perform poorly (relative to other Metro buses). For example, the 33 performs well during peak (46 riders per service hour) but is mediocre the rest of the day (29.1). It is not an especially good bus, which is why Metro ran it every half hour (before the cutbacks). Yet the express buses from the south end perform much worse. The best of the bunch — the 167 — gets 20 riders per hour during rush hour, and 12.8 midday. It is much worse at rush hour than the 33 is during midday. The buses closer to Kent perform significantly worse.
I’m not saying that Kent shouldn’t have an all-day express, but it will be a big subsidy if it does. There are a lot more areas that are more worthy of service (such as Magnolia, pretty much the entire East Side, …). This is why I think it makes more sense as an ST Express bus (where poorly performing buses are common, and the pockets are deeper).
Link or express buses would also be nice for Seattle Thunderbird games at the ShoWare Center. The arena is near both a park-and-ride and Kent Station.
If we are talking about gondolas, we should include other cable technologies too — like funiculars and cable people-movers. Their effectiveness and purpose are very similar to gondolas but I seem them as much better for ADA compliance. Any gondola proposal should probably consider funicular technology with fixed guideways unless there is an environmental or cost fatal flaw.
Their big advantage is their frequency. Their big disadvantage is their speed — and their distance limitations (extremely long cables are impractical). I think of them as long diagonal or sideways elevators. Many of the corridors are much easily served with buses, so it makes little sense to build them unless it is hard to speed up the bus because buses would actually be faster in many cases — especially outside of Seattle.
My long list for potential locations are:
1. Jefferson Street between Pioneer Square and Harborview.
2. North of Denny Way (study different streets) between South Lake Union and North Capitol Hill.
3. Alki to Admiral to Delridge Link (if it gets built).
4. South Seattle College to Delridge Link (if it gets built).
5. Lake City to Link at Northgate or 130th or even Roosevelt Link.
6. Factoria and maybe Eastgate to South Bellevue Link
7. Upper Queen Anne to a Seattle Center Link.
8. Fremont to Interbay Link.
9. Wallingford to UW Link (above Burke Gilman Trail).
10. NW Hospital/Aurora to Northgate or 130th Link.
11. Downtown Kirkland to South Kirkland Link (in the distant future).
12. South Renton to BAR Link on SR 900 with maybe a South Skyway stop.
13. Tacoma Dome Link to Tacoma Mall or Hilltop or maybe the McKinley area.
14. South Federal Way to Great Mall or Downtown Auburn.
Again, many of these have great bus service, so the gondola is not really improving transit travel times in many cases. It will probably take some sort of feasibility study to screen out the best places, so I couldn’t really rank the most appropriate corridors here.
A final comment is that there is a bit of financial windfall to nearby property owners if one is built. That should be leveraged somehow in a developer agreement or tax increment financing or something similar.
Each mode has its advantages and disadvantages. Buses and trains can take advantage of existing infrastructure. Or you can create new, very fast infrastructure for either one. Trains have higher capacity. Ferries are slower, and much slower when you consider the dwell time. But ferries can avoid land-based obstacles. Ferries scale up very well. Really big boats have low costs per person. But they don’t scale down well. A bus can be cost effective even if it never has more than ten riders on it — that isn’t the case with a ferry.
Gondolas are very slow compared to the other modes, but headways are measured in seconds. Like ferries, they can avoid obstacles. Unlike ferries, they don’t scale up well. To deal with big crowds, you can run more trains and buses (or in the case of ferries, add a bigger boat). You can’t do that with gondolas. They don’t handle peak demand well, and if you do decide to upgrade a gondola (to higher capacity) you are looking at a major capital project. Gondola costs go up with the number of stops. You need someone at each gondola stop, unlike a bus or train stop.
Thus gondolas only make sense if you have obstacles in the way, and strong, consistent demand. You are, by definition, skipping over the places along the way. If you are going over water, a freeway or a greenbelt this is a very reasonable choice.
The problem with most of these ideas is that they don’t fit that criteria. These are just solutions looking for a problem. For example, take #5 Lake City to Link at Northgate. This would not be cheap, as the gondola would have to change directions numerous times. It would also skip over all of the apartments along the way. It is essentially an express (traveling at around 5 mph) for a subset of those that ride the 75 or 20. A lot of people in Lake City headed to Northgate would prefer taking the bus, simply because the walk to the gondola station (the wrong direction both times) wouldn’t be worth it. Meanwhile, you still need to run the bus (to serve those places along the way). Total costs for that corridor would go up considerably, even after we’ve fully paid the capital costs (which weren’t cheap). Instead of running a bus, we are running a bus and a gondola. That means spending millions of dollars and increasing operational costs just to provide only a handful of riders with a faster trip.
To go through your list:
1. The most important thing is to make the 3/4 faster, as this is just a small part of that important corridor.
2. I felt like this had promise back in the day, but with the faster 8, and Harrison eventually becoming a transit street, I no longer feel that way. We are better off putting the money into bus infrastructure.
3. Too slow, and ignores the places in between. Better off with better bus service.
4. This is a relatively fast corridor that extends beyond SSC (it would be different if you were trying to connect High Point with the college).
5. Already covered.
6. Factoria is not a big enough destination. A bus can go between those places very quickly, while also serving areas to the south (Factoria is “on the way”). Likewise, Eastgate is part of the very fast Issaquah/Eastgate/Mercer Island corridor. South Bellevue is not a destination (it is merely a stop). BCC to downtown Bellevue has potential, but you would have to find the money. What service would you cut (on the underserved East Side no less) in order to run the gondola?
7. Various buses make that trip all the time, while serving very dense locations on the way.
8. The buses can do that, and handle the demand just fine. Interbay is not a significant, let alone major destination. When Link gets there, the gondola wouldn’t add much. If you are headed to downtown or Ballard, you would take a more direct bus. This also skips over SPU, as well as many of the apartments that make up a significant portion of the 31/32 ridership. The backup crossing over the Fremont Bridge should be addressed directly, which would improve many trips, not just those. Hopefully the work for the 40 will solve this problem.
9. Lower Wallingford is too small.
10. NW Hospital is an awkward place to serve. But it is also not a huge destination. Prior to the pandemic, it had about 100 riders a day (with the combined 345/346). The hospital is growing, and the number could go up. It has potential, but I feel like the physical limitations are too great for this to be cheap, and the potential ridership is too low. If there was a huge hospital in Northgate (right next to the station) it would be different story, but there are just clinics. It should be served by buses, however awkwardly.
11. Better off with better bus service. There are places along the way, and the corridor isn’t that slow.
12. I think the whole point of BAR is to connect Link to the roadways. There is no need to build a gondola when the buses will go by that station.
13. Tacoma needs better bus service. It doesn’t need streetcars or gondolas, especially to places that are largely just parking lots most of the day.
14. Similar to most of these — bus service is a better use of money.
Each mode has its place, but I just don’t see Seattle as having many places where a gondola makes sense. Partly it is because we have a fairly robust road infrastructure, but it also has to do with our relatively low density. The same goes for ferries. Vancouver BC runs a ferry every 10 to 15 minutes between North Vancouver and downtown. This makes sense because North Vancouver is a major urban area. In greater Seattle, many of the areas where a ferry would make sense from a geographic standpoint, there are just too few people going between those places. Likewise, where you do have major point-to-point travel, the land-based infrastructure handles it well (and when it doesn’t, a subway makes more sense). What is true of ferries is also true of gondolas.
If we are talking about gondolas, we should include other cable technologies too — like funiculars and cable people-movers.
I can see how you would lump those together.
I think there are similarities with elevators and escalators as well. They are not particularly fast, but are very frequent, and can overcome challenging physical restrictions. In other words, they can provide service between two points that takes significantly less time than a bus, even though vehicle speed is much slower.
I would say that all of those have a “sweet spot”. Gondolas aren’t great for going long distances. But they are very good for maybe 1 to 3 miles. They can solve the “last mile” problem. Elevators and escalators can solve the “last quarter mile” problem. For example, lower Fremont to Aurora (https://goo.gl/maps/tcnZ2QypcvGTyC8D6) where you can catch the 5 (and if they added a stop, the E). This is a steep, challenging walk up the hill. An elevator would be nice.
That example is mostly about transit, but there are other examples which work even if you aren’t taking a bus or train. For downtown, Seattle has a map of routes which include elevators and pedestrian bridges: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/schedules-maps/maps/seattle/accessibility.aspx. Many of these are inside private buildings, which means they close at night. I believe that some of the public elevators may close at night as well. Focusing on mobility in the manner is a good idea, and ends up complementing transit quite well (given the especially short distance).
Could you maybe put this into an article? It’s hard to keep track of 13+ corridors and scroll up to remember what each number means, in the middle of a 307-comment pile. (I hereby define a new term: “comment sprawl”, noun, 200+ comments in an article.)
So I’ll comment on the original list without trying to incorporate the replies.
1. (Harborview-Jefferson Street-Pioneer Sq) I was envisioning something going southwest across the grid, which buses can’t do. However, a Jefferson line could be extended east to Cherry Hill and maybe Garfield HS. Can a gondola go up and then down?
4. (South Seattle College – Delridge Link) I’m generally for colleges, but South is so car-oriented and so isolated that I fear it would get only peak-hour ridership and a small number of students midday.
5. (Lake City to Link at 130th, Northgate, or Roosevelt) I put 130th first because it’s closest, and could be extended to Aurora. Or even Shoreline CC? (Shoreline seems like it would generate more ridership than South, especially with stations at major bus transfer points and emerging urban villages, which #4 doesn’t have.)
7 (Queen Anne to Seattle Center Link) That would be a descendant of Queen Anne’s unique opportunity, when it could have advocated for a Queen Anne alignment to Ballard Link, but didn’t.
Very comprehensive, impressive list, Al!
One more addition: Edmonds to Edmonds College to Lynnwood Link.
9: Why go over Burke Gilman through Wallingford and not just connect Ballard to UW to Children’s Hospital? I don’t think Link will ever get built there, a gondola could easily handle the hills…
5+10: you could run a line from Aurora to 130th Link to Lake City expanding the walkshed of 130th Link tremendously.
3+4: The WS SkyLink has proposed these extensions, too.
Yes, funiculars and APMs should be considered in the same category. While gondola lines are straight between stations (unless you add a fake station), APMs/funiculars can take any turn, but get more expensive, are not as frequent, and need more ROW to run at grade or towers for an elevated guideway whereas the TRI-Line gondolas only need a few towers and can span longer distances. The Oakland Airport BART is a good example: https://www.bart.gov/stations/oakl.
Yes, APMs have solid ADA compliance, but modern gondola systems slow down enough for wheelchair users to get on (also offer a button to stop the cabin for a few seconds to enter) – all offer level boarding far better than buses, check out: https://youtu.be/uaE7a7vFdS0
Singapore has used APMs and a gondola to extend the reach of their metro network into the neighborhoods, Toulouse and Mexico City have used gondolas to do the same.
Ballard to UW in a gondola? The maximum speed I’ve ever ridden one is about five miles an hour. Since it’s four miles, that means 48 minutes Ballard to UW. Does it beat the 44?
“But they can go much faster than that!” you say? Only if they have the cars farther and farther apart, because there has to be enough time at the stations for the car to unhook, come to a stop, be opened by the operator, emptied, filled, the door closed and it pushed to hook back on.
The cars have to be at a minimum one dwell time apart passing any point. So the faster the cable goes, the fewer the cars.
And you keep talking about intermediate stations. Well, those stations, too, have dwell times and, yes, to some degree they overlap the end point station and other intermediate stations, but not all the time. So that stretches the distance between cars, only without a concomitant increase in speed between the end points.
Yeah I forgot to add U-Village and Children’s Hospital, or Edmonds College.
I would add Issaquah Highlands to the Issaquah Link station to the list sometime in the far future. I would also add Burien to TIBS — but with Stride and RapidRide and SeaTac flight path concerns it seemed useless.
Again, the corridors should be screened to assess demand, bus or shuttle travel times and other considerations. I think it’s best to objectively demonstrate infeasibility rather than summarily exclude possibilities.
Although the driverless aspect of the system saves some labor costs, maintenance and security and ADA assistance may end up not saving any labor cost when everything is considered. It may be better to look at the emerging autonomous rubber tired shuttle technology as a better alternative.
Tom, what’s the last time you saw a gondola? Modern gondolas go 8.5m/s that’s almost 20mph, all operation is automatic, no operator involved! That’s about 10min for the 3mi between 15th Ave Link station to Roosevelt station, a few minutes need to be added for station dwell time (depends on number of stations). I know they are speeding up the 44, but I don’t think that much as the bus still has to meander up the hills and wait at traffic lights.
TT, the west end of the U District and east end of Ballard are only 2.2 miles apart. Wallingford is skinny.
all operation is automatic, no operator involved!
You still need people at the stations. Those are, in effect the operators. Thus the difference is that gondolas are largely operated per station, while buses (and trains) are per vehicle.
The problem with a Ballard to UW gondola is capacity. Right now the buses are very slow, even in the middle of the day. Yet it is still one of our most popular buses. Make them fast, and you get lots of riders. So much so that buses no longer make sense, and you should switch to a train. A gondola would have trouble handling that kind of load.
Modern gondola systems can be operated remotely using sensors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxLzo9oEouA The Ropetaxi gondola technology even has platform level doors. You may need an operator during busy hours to help, but during off hours you can do remote operation.
Ross, do you expect more than 8000 people per hour in each direction on this line?
you could run a line from Aurora to 130th Link to Lake City expanding the walkshed of 130th Link tremendously
I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why the 130th Station is being built. It is about the corridor. Yes, the corridor includes Lake City and Bitter Lake. It also includes Pinehurst, and Ingraham High School. Lake City is not a single point, nor is Bitter Lake. Thus you are looking at more than a half dozen stops, and even then, skipping places that have decent ridership (with existing buses). The corridor can be extended, on either end. For example, a bus from Lake City going along the 125th/130th corridor is most likely to turn on Greenwood, and head north. That way, folks on Greenwood Avenue (north of 125th) can quickly connect to Link. Oh, and the corridor is very fast, even during rush hour (very little congestion going east-west there). Standard international stop spacing (every 400 meters) makes the most sense. This means at least a dozen stops. It is not well suited for a gondola.
Seattle is not as spiky as folks assume. We are not a land of very high density surrounded by nothingness. Even in areas of low density (e. g. Meridian and 130th) you have crossing bus service.
Gondolas make the most sense when they are serving areas that are spiky — areas of high demand with nothing in between. They make sense when you have big physical barriers between places — barriers making alternatives very slow. There just aren’t that many places like that — if any — in Seattle.
With all due respect, Martin, you are throwing out numbers without specifics. I am not trying to be pedantic, but it isn’t clear what you are talking about. My understanding is that aerial trams max out at 45km/h, while gondolas can go 30km/h*. Aerial trams are fixed to the wire, which means that the car comes to a complete stop, everyone boards, and then it moves. This would be problematic if you have a line with many stops (like Ballard to UW). It is highly unlikely that you could space these stations such that you avoid lots of cars stopping in between stations while someone in another car is boarding. Then you have capacity issues as well. With an aerial tram and two stops, it is pretty easy to balance these. If your goal is maximum speed, you have two cars, and the line just goes back and forth. But if you want more capacity, you have more cars, which means more stopping.
Gondolas offer the advantage of being able to detach and reattach onto the wire. Thus they don’t delay the rest of the cars when at a station. But again, my understanding is that they are slower. For really fast speeds you need really big stations. 30 km/h (18.6 miles per hour) is still very good. But this is top speed, not average speed. A bus, traveling the speed limit, runs faster (albeit for short distances). With several stations, the end to end time would be considerably slower.
Then there is capacity. I have no idea how this fits into any of this. But I would assume that the bigger capacity systems have bigger cars. Bigger cars likely means longer dwell times.
If you have a specific system in mind, that would be great. It may be easier to point to a system which you believe is similar. I would be very surprised if it is similar to this corridor. Every urban gondola I’ve ever heard of addresses a major physical barrier, unlike Ballard to UW.
* I’m basing those numbers on this: https://www.gondolaproject.com/category/statistics-and-specifications/. That information may be out of date. There is no breakdown of lift technologies on Wikipedia (which is disappointing) but they do list various systems around the world.
Martin, my only experience with gondolas is from skiing, and those generally have only two stops: at the bottom and at the top, with boarding and departure basically from ground level.
My question is with an urban gondola like in Seattle with several stops along the way do the riders take some form of elevator up to an elevated station to catch the gondola or does the gondola descend to street level to pick up the riders? If the design is riders somehow ascend to an elevated station to catch the gondola that is going over whatever is below, does the capacity of whatever someone takes to get up to the gondola limit the number of riders who can board. If in fact the gondola descends to pick up riders at different stations what kind of station footprint is necessary for each stop, and how does the gondola deal with structures like buildings while descending?
Would this have a dozen three-person cars like a ski lift. It must if a car comes every minute or two. How can a car slow down or stop to let a wheelchair off without slamming into the following car behind it? Would it get off the cable and back on? How long would that take?
Ross, yes, 8.5 m/s or 30km/h is the maximum speed for gondolas, this has not changed for a while, gondolaproject as well as manufacturer sites confirm. As the main transport rope keeps going at that speed, this isn’t just average time, but predictable time except when cars get taken off that rope in the station, then they slow down for 20sec before they get on again. Yes, a lot of stations would slow everybody down and increase cost – no different from a train and therefore may not totally replace buses. Doppelmayr’s latest TRI-Line technology allows for up to 8000 riders/h: https://newsroom.doppelmayr.com/en/doppelmayr/press/doppelmayr-presents-new-ropeway-system/ it has doors on both sides to allow boarding/deboarding at the same time and slightly larger cars (20 passengers) than the current technology used in Haifa, Mexico City, La Paz, Medellin etc. allowing for the larger capacity which should also make it easier for bikes and wheel chairs, you can watch the Haifa line on https://youtu.be/9zBJQTC2gCQ
Yes, gondolas are a lot more attractive if you have steep hills or rivers or other obstacles to cross, but Paris is building a flat line atm, it crosses other rail lines and freeways. Ballard to Children’s Hospital would involve a freeway and some hills, though not very steep ones, but what are the alternatives? Rail would have trouble with the slope and are challenging to connect to 1 Line, buses get stuck in traffic.
130th station: Yes, 130th is a corridor, a gondola would not replace the bus lines on that corridor but connect the Aurora bus corridor and people living around Bitter Lake and Lake City (both fairly dense) with a high frequency and therefore extremely attractive connection to Link, but as Al said, nobody has studied whether driver estimates justify the extra cost and depends how many buses would run on the corridor.
Daniel, gondola stations can be at ground level, but often are elevated like in Mexico City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_Yh_ilSFvA (this line is operating now, videos are plentiful on Youtube) with a single stair/escalator/elevator.
Ballard to Children’s Hospital would involve a freeway and some hills, though not very steep ones, but what are the alternatives? Rail would have trouble with the slope and are challenging to connect to 1 Line, buses get stuck in traffic.
The best alternative is a subway, with underground connections to the main line. The idea that this would be a tougher connection than a gondola is ridiculous. The subway is underground — gondolas are above ground, and in the case would likely be very high above ground. Oh, and I wouldn’t bother with Children’s Hospital — it doesn’t have enough riders to justify this type of work. In that sense, yes, like so much of Seattle, the bus is the best choice.
Yes, 130th is a corridor, a gondola would not replace the bus lines on that corridor but connect the Aurora bus corridor and people living around Bitter Lake and Lake City (both fairly dense) with a high frequency and therefore extremely attractive connection to Link
So that basically means that you are poaching riders from the bus line. My point is that you aren’t even poaching most riders. The vast majority of riders — who don’t live that close to a station — would just take the bus. Thus you are spending a fortune on something that serves relatively few people, and only speeds up their travel a little bit. Gondolas are a lot cheaper than subways, but they aren’t cheap. You are much better off making bus-related improvements.
Just ban cars from 3rd and put a police station at 3rd and Pike. Why is this so hard?
Cars are largely banned on Third. Putting a police station there wouldn’t change the fundamental problem, which is that the sidewalks are too narrow. This has nothing to do with what is going on at 3rd and Pike. A stronger police presence there would simply shift those activities to another street, as it has many times in this city’s history (https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/crime-and-community-define-one-of-downtown-seattles-most-complex-areas/).
There’s already a police presence at 3rd & Pike. At least two officers and a police car, apparently all day. I’m not sure a station would make much difference. And we don’t want the center of town to look like a police state. I’m already bugged by anti-sexual-harrassment posters on Metro, a picture behind the driver of somebody holding out a “stop” hand as if all passengers are criminals and this should be the uppermost thing on their mind throughout the trip.
Very excited (and surprised!) to see that the Lynnwood council has approved more housing in their “city center” (e.g., their parking crater)–and by a 5-2 margin at that. The Alderwood Mall area is already much more lively in the evenings with the new apartment complexes that have just started opening up there. It’s not a huge volume right now, but there have been noticeably more people walking around the area. Pub 44 and Just Left are gonna need more bartenders;) Assuming Pub 44 survives the Northline Village project in some form.
Yes, it’s good to see Lynnwood make such a positive commitment to its downtown and potentially non-driving residents.
Clearly Jack Scholes has either never ridden Link or a “tunnel bus” or is remarkably uninterested in the environment around him. That’s because while the two stations on Third Avenue — the subject of the article — were excavated, the tunnels between them and to the north and south of them were bored. To anyone who knows anything at all about subway construction this is immediately obvious from the top step of any of the staircases leading down from the Mezzanines on. The transitways come out of circular tubes, not rectangular galleries.
Ryan should have clarified that after the quotation.
Other than that glaring bit of misinformation — which ipso facto undercuts any of the DSA’s recommendations — it’s a good article.
So far as Ross’s idea of a contraflow couplet, asdf2’s note that in a contraflow regime a bus can only go a couple of blocks at a time before hitting a red light is accurate, and a concern. However, it’s not terrible, because the buses have to stop anyway every few blocks. At least one of the interruptions per pair would match a stop.
However, the biggest problem with contraflow operations is that a follower can’t pass a leader stopped for a wheelchair operation or a breakdown. That can lead to serious bus bunching.
Apologies to Al. It was he who mentioned the light-timing problem of contraflow lanes, not asdf2. They’re great in long tunnels — Lincoln, we’re lookin’ at you — but not so great in CBD’s.
However, the biggest problem with contraflow operations is that a follower can’t pass a leader stopped for a wheelchair operation or a breakdown. That can lead to serious bus bunching.
There would be two lanes each direction. So they could pass each other (just like they do now).
As for traffic lights, I mentioned that in response to Al above. Ever drove on Denny? The lights are timed going each direction (like magic). Ever rode a bus on Denny? It doesn’t matter.
You’re proposing two contraflow lanes on each of Second and Fourth in addition to Third or as a replacement for Third? And if the latter, would you move the trollies?
You would never get “in addition”. There would be only one lane left for cars. No way that will fly.
OK, I see that Third would replace Fourth as the northbound transit street. It would be exactly like the Portland Mall with two transit and one general lane. They allow no right turns from the general purpose lanes which are on the left to give transit access to the curb.
Given that why would you bother with the signal timing issue of contraflow? That truly makes no sense. I do like the Portland Mall idea though.
Portland Mall before or after 2009?
Before 2009, the transit mall was two transit lanes, and a 3rd general traffic lane that didn’t go through in all locations. You could turn left into it and left out of it, but in several places it was left turn only to make space for even wider sidewalks at certain locations.
Post 2009, the general purpose lanes go through all the way. Right turns are still not allowed, but people sometimes get in the bus lanes and turn right anyway. There’s a lot more auto traffic now with the lanes going all the way through..
If a bus-only bridge were build at 240th, there could be a major improvement in east-west access. It gets the buses out of the mess at K-DM and I-5, at K-DM and Pac Hwy and removes the left turn across Pac Hwy traffic into the TC. It would be a huge improvement.
To make the folks who live on South 240th happy, they busway might have to follow next to the off-ramp down to Military Road by the Century Motel. Kent-Des Moines has a lane-width “buffer” between the eastbound and westbound lanes east of Military. The left turn lane for general traffic could be moved into the buffer, with a Jersey barrier for protection, and a short bus-only left turn placed where the left turn lane is now. That would act as a bus-jump on left turns, and the right-most lane to the entrance to the motel road — it’s about a half-block — would be red for bus only.
Going east it makes sense to fly over Military and use the rump road east of it as a landing for a merge into K-DM. https://www.google.com/maps/place/Kent+Des+Moines+Rd+%26+Pacific+Hwy+S,+Kent,+WAemail@example.com,-122.2926691,718m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x54905bbaf6b0dcb3:0x290dda4535b8e570!8m2!3d47.3936696!4d-122.2949197!5m1!1e4
Westbound buses would come up K-DM to the new bus lane at Military, turn left then almost immediately right into the stub road to the motel. A new busway would be built next to the northbound off-ramp, rising to curve over the freeway at 240th. It would descend into the 240th right of way, turn right at 30th, loop through the transit station, return to 30th, cross Pac Highway to 20th South, turn right to K-DM and resume the standard route.
Eastbound would turn right at 20th, left at 240th, cross Pac Highway, turn left at 30th South, loop through the bus loop and EITHER turn right to 240th and follow the same route back to Military but over pass Military and then merge with K-DM. Alternatively, the bus could turn left on 30th and then turn right on K-DM to the planned route. This option would have the drawback of omitting a potential stop just east of the bridge for the neighborhood between Military and I-5, which is a natural for TOD.
The bus-only bridge could also have ramps to the I-5 HOV lanes; there’s enough room between the roadways. But doing that would duplicate Link. This is why I think Midway would have been a great place to terminate Link.
The comment above was supposed to be in reply to Ross and Midway. Interesting where it got placed. I had scrolled down to read ahead before pushing “post” and it seems to have put it under the nearest above “Reply”.
Glenn, the current one with two sets of skip stop and one for MAX all intermingled very nicely.
I think Tom and I are on the same page here. Just to clarify:
I propose two possible alignments:
Option 1: On Fourth Avenue, there would be two bus lanes going south, and one general purpose lane going north. On Third Avenue there would be one general purpose lane going south, and two bus lanes going north.
Option 2: On Third Avenue, there would be two bus lanes going south, and one general purpose lane going north. On Second Avenue there would be one general purpose lane going south, and two bus lanes going north.
(I hope I got that write, it is easier to draw than describe.).
In both cases there could be some space for bikes. For the first option, you take northbound general purpose lanes, and add a southbound lane. In the second option, you take southbound lanes, and add a northbound lane. To compensate, you could involve other streets. For example, on the first option, you could also swap a southbound general purpose lane for a northbound one.
Or you just don’t worry about it. Induced demand works in reverse. You take away lanes, and eventually people avoid driving through downtown. You want to make driving to and through downtown possible, but you don’t want to make it fast. You obviously talk to the traffic engineers with all of this, but I see no reason why we can’t have a contraflow couplet. Whether it is worth the effort or not is a different matter.
The whole point is to shrink the number of vehicles going through downtown so that we can increase the width of the sidewalk, and make these streets more attractive. Whether this is the best use of money is a different matter.
Ross, I like with the “couplet” idea, and agree 100% with the goal of reducing “through” traffic in the “core” CBD. That said, there might be political problems with having Fourth be the couplet to Third. It would by far be the better choice since it serves the office and retail core better. But that retail core might object.
Generally, though, having Second, Fifth and Sixth be the “car streets” with First, Third and Fourth “transit” makes great sense topographically.
Generally, though, having Second, Fifth and Sixth be the “car streets” with First, Third and Fourth “transit” makes great sense topographically.
I agree. That would be my preference as well.
Another thing I was thinking about: Make First Avenue one-way, and replace the streetcar plans with buses. You can “take” just as many lanes as you would with the streetcar, and provide just as much isolation from traffic.
For example, the street would be one way for cars headed northbound (since 2nd is southbound). The lane just to the left of the car-lane becomes the bus-platform lane. You have the same sort of platforms as you were planning on adding for the streetcar. The northbound buses are to the left of that. The southbound buses are on the far right (and let people off by the curb). Thus the two westernmost lanes have buses on them, and with the platforms (for northbound buses) are in between the buses and general traffic.
This also has the advantage of greatly reducing poaching. The lane with the platforms has a strong physical barrier. The transit area is thus quite isolated from general traffic.
It also allows buses to pass buses in a pinch. They only have to deal with oncoming buses (not general traffic). This isn’t something you would want on a regular basis. You want the buses to be timed (and have short dwell times) to avoid bus bunching, and leapfrogging. But if a bus is stuck, the other buses should at least be able to get around it, even though there is only one bus lane each direction.
Ross, I like the idea of a two-way busway on First next to the west curb. Transit gets the two lanes that the streetcar would have claimed, but it’s more flexible. A CCC route bus could use it, the Madison BRT would share one station with it, and there could be a Lander to Queen Anne First Avenue RapidRide to link the high density neighborhood north and west of First and Battery to jillions of entertainment locations.
You’d have to have a queue jump light at the north end for CCC buses to turn right and for First Avenue buses to merge with traffic, or would you consider continuing the busway through Belltown?
OK, now we are getting into the particulars. Fair enough.
I wouldn’t have the CCC at all. Kill off the steetcars, keep them, I don’t care. But for heaven’s sake, don’t extend the line into a circle! That is just a terrible idea from an operational standpoint, let alone a capital one. We literally have more than enough buses running north-south through downtown. Running a brand new parallel bus (but on metal wheels) a few blocks over is nuts. Folks seem to be ignoring this basic concept. You build streetcars the world over because you want to minimize driver cost. CCC would increase them. You are adding operational costs, not reducing them, after spending a bunch of capital. Lunacy.
Anyway, I digress. The whole point of a First Avenue busway is to serve First Avenue at very little cost, by diverting a few buses there. Some would divert buses that are already on the coast, like the Magnolia buses (24 and 33). I feel the opposite approach makes more sense. I would send buses that arrive from the east. That way, those buses cross the 3rd/4th busway, and riders heading to that part of downtown have the option of transferring if they don’t want to walk up the hill. With buses arriving every few seconds on 3rd/4th, the transfer penalty is minimal. Similarly, you make it easier for people headed to 1st, as riders from other parts of town can also avoid the hill.
From the north, I would go with the 70. From the south, I would go with the 36. Both are frequent buses. Both go by Link stations outside of downtown. I would run them in overlapping fashion (as was the plan with the streetcars) to get 5 or 6 minute headways on First.
The 70 runs north on Virginia, and south on Lenora. If the general purpose street is on the east side of First (heading north) then the bus turning right would need a skip ahead light. At the other end of downtown, a bus turning left on Jackson would need a left turn arrow. Interestingly enough, if you moved everything to the other side of the street it is easier. If the general purpose lane is heading south, then the bus can easily turn right on Virginia. Turning left on Jackson would also be relatively easy, as it would only need to deal with buses heading straight. Nonetheless, I think I would still prefer having the buses on the west side of the street. This would put the bus next to Pike Place Market.
“You build streetcars the world over because you want to minimize driver cost.”
You build streetcars because they’re higher capacity, and trains are just more effective in high-volume corridors, and it usually goes hand-in-hand with transit-only lanes. It just makes more sense to run a tram every 3-5 minutes in a few busiest corridors that aren’t served by subway, than to do it with a bus. It’s not just to save the cost of a few drivers’ salaries. The relative cost of drivers varies by country. In the US healthcare premiums, retirement savings, and expensive housing and higher education come out of people’s salaries, so of course workers with union clout demand high salaries.
You build streetcars because they’re higher capacity, and trains are just more effective in high-volume corridors, and it usually goes hand-in-hand with transit-only lanes. It just makes more sense to run a tram every 3-5 minutes in a few busiest corridors that aren’t served by subway, than to do it with a bus.
Yes! And why does it “just make more sense to run a tram every 3-5 minutes than to do it with a bus”? Because you minimize driver costs!
The advantage of a bigger vehicle is that you can move more people *per driver*. It really is that simple. Why do they have long, articulated buses that carry more people, instead of just running twice as many small buses? Why does Link run four-car trains instead of running trains twice as often? It all boils down to the same thing — you can move more people per driver. Moving more people per driver is just another way of saying “Minimizing driver costs”. In all these cases it is actually better for riders to have smaller, more frequent vehicles. It is just very expensive from an operational standpoint. You spend way too much on drivers, which means the drivers can’t be doing other things (like adding frequency where it is needed). Going from a bus every 4 minutes to a bus every 2 minutes is nice. But it isn’t nearly as nice as going from a bus every half hour to a bus every ten minutes. Increasing the capacity of the vehicles allows us to do the former, so we can do the latter.
But our streetcar won’t do that! That is the crazy part. When you look at every Link project — even ones I am opposed to — you can see buses that are replaced by trains. I don’t think West Seattle Link is worth the capital spending. But when it is done, Metro will restructure the buses in West Seattle, and save a considerable amount in operations (i. e. driver cost). That money can be then used to increase headways within West Seattle (or other parts of the county). Every other project works the same way. The same is true for RapidRide projects as well.
But not the CCC! There is not a single bus that will be truncated or eliminated because of it. It won’t replace anything. It becomes an extra, redundant route that we somehow have to pay for. Not just the capital — which is high enough — but the operational costs as well.
Put it another way — what buses will you run less often or truncate to run the streetcar?
“And why does it “just make more sense to run a tram every 3-5 minutes than to do it with a bus”? Because you minimize driver costs!”
You know the basics of trains. They can move more people per hour without melting down in bus bunching. The cars are closer together so they take less space. That’s what enables running larger trains more frequently than buses without impacting the surrounding traffic as much or getting as much impact from it. Trolley wires avoid the inefficiencies of an internal-combustion engine or carrying heavy batteries. Steel wheels on steel tracks last longer than rubber wheels on asphalt.
That’s for an ideal streetcar in a well-chosen corridor. Seattle-style streetcars are NOT that. Our streetcars run largely in mixed traffic, with one-car trains that have no more capacity than a trolleybus. That loses most of the advantages of streetcars. And it’s the same number of drivers a bus route would be.
If you look at SLU, the streetcar runs parallel to the 40, 62, and 70. All those routes have robust ridership, while the streetcar doesn’t. Why? The streetcar terminates a mile from its origin, so people going beyond that can’t use it. It’s slower than the buses. The streetcar gets caught at a stoplight every block between Stewart and Denny, while the buses don’t. I don’t know why that is, but that’s part of the reason people walk rather than wait for the streetcar.
The First Hill streetcar has higher ridership, and goes up hills that many people don’t want to walk. But it’s all in mixed traffic, so it has no speed advantage over buses. Its capacity is no higher than a bus. So why didn’t we put a trolleybus route there instead?
The kinds of corridors that would be best for a full-sized streetcar might be Rainier, Aurora, 15th Ave W, or Fauntleroy Way. Streets with room for transit-only lanes, a route that goes a substantial distance in a straight line, and lots of varied destinations around them. These lines would look more like Link on MLK than the First Hill Streetcar. The difference from Link is that they’d be one or two cars rather than four, and not have much tunneling or elevation. Link was designed to carry two or more busfuls of people to the Lynnwood, Bellevue, or Federal Way transfer hubs and P&Rs in addition to the one or two busfuls of local riders every run; that’s why its platforms are two blocks long. A streetcar would be in a corridor that doesn’t require that much. I think Rainier to Renton could safely be a streetcar without overcrowding. I mean a good streetcar, not a Seattle-style streetcar. Hopefully the streetcar lines would run every 5-10 minutes so that they’d get maximum ridership and usefulness.
The CCC proposal does have transit-only lanes on 1st, and Westlake Ave already has transit-only lanes partially, so that’s a step forward from traditional Seattle streetcars. The main issue is whether that corridor is Seattle’s biggest transit need. I don’t think so. The egg-dropper shaped corridor serves Pike Place Market to MOHAI or Little Saigon, and tourists would like that, but is that were we should spend scarce transit dollars? It won’t serve Pike Place Market to Broadway because RapidRide G will be much faster. And the streetcar route will still have mixed traffic on all of the First Hill route, and the Pioneer Square part of 1st (i.e., the highest-congestion part of 1st), which is too narrow for transit lanes. Other countries might do the Pioneer Square squeeze as a last resort to get through a historic area, but not saddle the line with a mile of mixed traffic like the First Hill route.
“That’s what enables running larger trains more frequently than buses”
In case it’s still not clear, the reason you do that is to get more people to their destinations quickly. That benefits riders, the economy, and the government. It’s not just to reduce drivers. Because if you can use autonomous buses to make half the drivers disappear, you still haven’t increased capacity, reliability, or frequency. But those are what a city needs to have the most effective transit; transit that gets people to their destinations quickly, and they don’t have to wait long or deal with bus bunching, overcrowding, or pass-ups.
Ross, I said “a CCC route bus“. [emphasis added] Please, spare me the preaching on the streetcars. We know what you think about them.
But, whether it’s steel-wheeled or rubber-tired, I believe a “diagonal” route directly from South Lake Union to the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square would be a smashing success.
I know you think that no bus should ever turn a corner, except to reverse direction at its end points, but there is a large accumulation of living spaces in South Lake Union, along with the office buildings, and the folks who live in them would probably like to be able to hop on a single bus to go back home after they’ve had too much to drink in Pioneer Square. Sure, many would take Uber or Lyft, but if a bus running reliably in its own right-of-way were available, people would use it.
It seems like you recognize the problem with diverting west-side buses away from Third: most people from those areas aren’t headed to the Market or Pioneer Square. Some are, but they’re the minority. As you say, buses from the east cross the Third Avenue spine for people to transfer quickly. So I think your solution of using the 70 and 36 for the service is a good one. I would still add that CCC bus though, and a frequent service between Lander and Lower Queen Anne. If there’s going to be a busway, it should have a bus stopping at each central station at most every two minutes.
Would a CCC bus replace the SLU streetcar? It may be possible to get some political leverage for that, since it was the first streetcar and an experiment, and it was spearheaded by Paul Allen who was thinking only of SLU to Westlake and not the whole city, so it could be retired as a failed experiment.
The CCC streetcar plan would have extended the SLU line to International District and the First Hill line to Westlake, but that’s not possible if the CCC is a bus and the outer tails are streetcars. So I assume the First Hill Streetcar would remain as is, unless you intend to convert it to a bus too. That may be harder because it’s higher-ridership, and it would mean throwing away ST2 investment in the corridor.
Another reason I dislike contraflow lanes Downtown is safety for pedestrians. Pedestrians Downtown seem much safer crossing a one-way street than a street with one-way traffic but added contraflow bus traffic moving in the other. Most of the major pedestrian facilities are on two-way streets too — and considering that Downtown is the busiest pedestrian zone really speaks volumes about how two-way streets are more dangerous.
Contraflow bus lanes seem terribly gimmicky to me. They can be useful in specific cases, but seem horrible in general application.
Mike, you understand correctly. When I said “a CCC-route bus” I should have specified “to Pioneer Square”. Unless and until Westlake is made transit only south of the intersection with Blanchard and Ninth, with the east-west cross streets which don’t have transit on them downgraded to stop signs so the streetcar can perform, yes, replace it with a bus.
I know Ross is going to say “Well, the ‘C’ already does that”. Yes, sort of. It peripherally serves Pioneer Square, if by “serves” you mean a stop at Western and Columbia southbound and at Alaskan Way and Yesler northbound. It bypasses the Market and misses the arts section between the Market and Pioneer Square by being ten stories higher up on Third. I’d send the bus a few blocks south to the northern edge of Lumen Park by turning right on Dearborn, right on Alaskan Way and right on King back to First. To keep it moving during games, a temporary bus-only lane would take the parking on the west side of First, the north side of Dearborn and the south side of King.
With the transitway on First this could move a LOT of people in and out of the Stadium District up to Westlake for transfer to other parts of the County.
I’m skeptical tunnel construction really caused 3rd Avenue’s long-term demise, and if only we hadn’t built it, 3rd Avenue would be vibrant and crime-free today.
I would not encourage a transit mall couplet. Transfers to and from Link are important, and it adds extra walking for Link riders. Instead, I would examine how to make Third Ave better for buses and pedestrians. Ban the cars, enhance the environment and maybe put in some barriers with plants to discourage mid-block jaywalking in front of buses.
Plus, the 2 Line opening along with other extensions will pull off buses in Downtown Seattle for awhile. Depending on what happens to WSBLE, even more riders will access Downtown from underground rail stations.
If anything, I would rather just wait the three years to see what happens with the ST2 project ridership. The delays will probably not hold back Link much further and everything ST2 is supposed to be open within 3 years. Trains to Lynnwood every 4-5 minutes until late night will pull riders away from many north-south routes. Downtown buses will likely be almost exclusively for trips inside the City limits except for those to/from Renton. I’d hate to see Seattle push another Downtown project right now considering the CC Connector saga recent history.
And I really think DSA should be planning on better station access to Link instead. Updated elevators and escalators along with better overall access. The Downtown Link stations will probably double or even triple (200% to 300%) in use in 3 years.
I agree with Al to some extent. I would ban all cars on 3rd — although since 2018 they mostly have been banned — and move all buses going north and south through Seattle to 3rd. 3rd is never going to revitalize as a pedestrian or retail hub so sacrifice it for the benefit of the rest of downtown. Once you ban all cars retail will truly die on 3rd, but it is pretty much dead anyway today.
I would also move the bike lanes to 3rd.
Wider sidewalks are not the issue on 3rd. So keep the sidewalk or narrow them. Instead have buses use both lanes in each direction and install a center median so some buses can use and load from the outer lane and some the inner lane to increase capacity on 3rd to handle all the buses in Seattle and to avoid bunching.
Basically think of 3rd as a tunnel above ground. Its one purpose is buses through the downtown core, which removes buses from the other Avenues. A bus mall is never going to create retail vibrancy although buses serve a critical transportation need, but are not the ideal retail customer.
I thought The Urbanist article was a lot more realistic about the issues facing 3rd, and the issues from a bus mall, than the city’s proposals which of course dream of everything, and some of the comments on this blog. Induced demand does not work for retail. Wider sidewalks will not create a U Village.
If the argument is buses and a bus mall actually will create retail vibrancy then moving all buses to 3rd will create retail vibrancy on 3rd and attract pedestrians who are not just bus/transit riders going from A to B. If that is not true, moving all buses to 3rd will help revitalize retail on the other Avenues, because with a loss of 60% of office commuters Seattle retail/restaurant has to compete for the discretionary shopper and diner, and none of those discretionary riders is going to 3rd, which is why the city will give you a $2500 subsidy to move into one of the vacant storefronts on 3rd, although any retail expert will tell you that business will fail because there is no retail density.
Right now there is not enough retail in downtown Seattle for the other Avenues. There is no retail on 3rd, for a reason, and the idea struggling retail on 4th, 5th or 6th will move to 3rd because the sidewalks are wider are the buses run in couplets misunderstands retail.
It is a mistake IMO to expect streets or avenues to be and do everything. 3rd should be dedicated to north/south buses through Seattle, along with bike lanes. If that destroys retail so be it. Let retail flourish on one of the other Avenues.
I remember when the promise of DSTT1 was it would remove all buses from downtown Seattle streets because it was understood having hundreds of buses per hour navigating surface streets was no better than having hundreds of cars navigating the same streets, and then Link was suppose to do that. That is how 3rd would revitalize but that promise never panned out. Now the city is pursuing a delusion: the buses can create retail vibrancy, despite since 2018 when cars were effectively removed from 3rd 3rd has continued to decline.
I would not encourage a transit mall couplet. … Instead, I would examine how to make Third Ave better for buses and pedestrians. Ban the cars
Cars are already banned.
enhance the environment
and maybe put in some barriers with plants to discourage mid-block jaywalking in front of buses.
How is that a problem?
Plus, the 2 Line opening along with other extensions will pull off buses in Downtown Seattle for awhile.
Yes, that is well documented in the report I referenced (see page 13). I think people don’t understand what the group is trying to do. They are not focused on making the buses go faster. They fully expect the number of buses to go down. That isn’t the issue.
What they want is more sidewalk space on Third. You can’t achieve that without giving up transit lanes. Every single plan has that, including the couplet. The difference is that the couplet has just as many transit lanes as exist now, whereas every other plan does not.
This just begs the question — if you don’t like the couplet idea, which one do you prefer?
“ This just begs the question — if you don’t like the couplet idea, which one do you prefer?”
I actually think it’s silly to change the bus lanes on Third now. They seem to work fine, and Netro has ones stop locations to be pretty efficient with years of real-time adjustments.
I don’t find Third Ave sidewalks that narrow. Instead I find them desolate. A wider sidewalk won’t make it feel that much less desolate. It’s the buildings and storefront design and uses that make a street feel more alive!
I honestly think DSA needs to focus on the Streets rather than Third Avenue itself. The big deterrent to Third that I see are the steep streets south of Pike Place on the west and University on the east. It keeps pedestrians from wanting to walk to Third Avenue much more than the sidewalk width does. There is no longer viaduct ramp traffic to distribute so they don’t need to be so wide. It’s a good time to look at solutions to the steep Streets..
There is insufficient room for bike lanes and skip stop bus service on Third Avenue. There is skip-stop now and if you moved the Second and Fourth buses to Third it would be even more essential.
Plus, bikes would have to be in the center of the roadway or there would have to be island platforms like on Dexter for them to pass behind the waiting passengers.
No. No. No.
What a great campaign slogan! Are you listening Mr. Mayor? Your Bannon is whispering in your ear.
The bike lanes should stay where they are. There is no reason to undergo the expense of moving them.
I would also prefer to ride a bike on a street that’s not constantly spewing out diesel exhaust.
The numbers for how West Seattleites got around during the bridge closing (almost 900 days) are interesting.
Daily trips by car declined by 4600, from 100,000 before closure/pandemic. Transit trips increased 1280/day from 20,000 before the closure/pandemic. Telework only increased 1000.
This suggests how difficult it is and will be to move car drivers to transit, although that is a central theme to most transit. Even a complete bridge closure resulted in less than 5% of drivers finding alternatives to driving. Martin has previously posted the DEIS itself estimates only around 400 car drivers will switch to WSBLE, and with the bridge open crossing the bridge in a car (or bus) according to the Seattle Times takes 4 minutes.
With city and regional future population growth looking to be flat or even decrease slightly the number of transit riders pretty much looks fixed. Link ridership will correlate to bus riders switching to Link minus those working from home. ST’s estimates based on large population growth or car drivers switching to Link just are not going to happen, which is why Northgate Link has not moved the needle at all on Link ridership.
The issue with 3rd Ave. as noted in the linked Urbanist article is retail vibrancy. The photos in the city’s studies show a retail and pedestrian vibrant 3rd Ave. when that is the opposite of today. Retail vibrancy and eyes on the street really have little to do with wider streets or medians. The article notes:
“The street has also been long associated with crime. The City of Seattle’s cyclical approach to crime in Downtown, long relying on a regular crackdown on “hotspots,” has failed to put a stop to persistent problems along the corridor for decades, and these actions have impacted on transit users’ experience on Third Avenue. For example, one of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first acts in office was to close a highly used bus stop along the corridor to “increase visibility into criminal activity,” according to the mayor’s office.”
The article further notes pedestrians and a bus mall don’t necessarily mix, as Harrell’s actions suggest is common wisdom, which was the conclusion from the “plan to improve the Pike and Pine Street corridors” that was scrapped:
“The reason cited for this change was an intentional decision not to encourage people to linger in this area but to pass through instead. This illustrates the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum when it comes to activating public space here: Third Avenue likely won’t improve without some new uses, but it’s unlikely those uses will get to be tested for fear they be used the “wrong” way.”
The city apparently made the decision to sacrifice 3rd for the bus mall, and to make transfers easier for transit riders. There really is little a city can do to “activate’ public spaces. Currently the city is paying businesses $2500 to move into vacant storefronts, but is not addressing the reasons those storefronts are vacant (and some like WFH have no solution) It is too bad Link has not reduced the number of buses through downtown Seattle streets, especially with so few work commuters these days.
I’m not really sure what the solution is for 3rd Ave., or if there is one or needs to be one. I would probably continue to concentrate buses on 3rd and let 3rd be the sacrificial lamb since there are very few retail businesses along 3rd today to harm. Post pandemic with so few commuters to downtown and retail throughout the downtown core struggling I would be hesitant to migrate the problems on 3rd to other Avenues. Even if the city could somehow clean up the crime and other issues on 3rd Ave. that is only a very beginning step to returning shoppers and diners and retail to 3rd, as the rest of Seattle is learning.
“This suggests how difficult it is and will be to move car drivers to transit, although that is a central theme to most transit. Even a complete bridge closure resulted in less than 5% of drivers finding alternatives to driving.”
A 27% increase in people taking transit is something I would call a rousing success, honestly.
A Joy, how did you get a 27% increase in West Seattleites using transit during the bridge closure. Pre-closure/pandemic 20,000 riders used buses daily according to the Seattle Times. That increased by 1280/day during the closure. I personally would have expected a much higher increase in transit ridership during the bridge closure because buses got preference on the lower bridge. It will be interesting to see bus ridership now that the bridge is open. I also expected more “telework”, or WFH during the closure.
“Daily trips by car declined by 4600, from 100,000 before closure/pandemic. Transit trips increased 1280/day from 20,000 before the closure/pandemic.”
1280÷4600=.278. 1280 of those 4600, or 27.8%, switched modes from car to transit. I will admit I worded it poorly earlier, but this is still a huge success
The numbers are even higher than that. Transit is transit. The two types of transit (water and surface) accounted for almost half the switch. Biking and walking also accounted for a substantial amount. A relative small number switched to telecommuting.
But the graph also implies that a large number of people just kept driving. 3,600 people switched from driving to some other type of transport, while 1,000 people started telecommuting. But most just drove over a different bridge.
You have to remember here that the bus is optimized largely for travel specifically to a few blocks of the city commonly known as “downtown”.
The vast majority of trips to or from West Seattle do not involve downtown, which limits how competitive the bus can be, even with access to the lower bridge.
The vast majority of trips to or from West Seattle do not involve downtown, which limits how competitive the bus can be, even with access to the lower bridge.
I suppose, but lots of trips go through downtown. It is “on the way”, as they put it. West Seattle is in the southwest part of the city. If you are headed anywhere in north or central Seattle (UW, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill) you go through downtown. If you are headed to the East Side, you skirt downtown. It is only places south of I-90 where you would not get close to downtown. For many of those trips, going downtown is not a big detour. For example, to get to Beacon Hill you would go to SoDo (on the edge of downtown) then take a train back south. Maybe that isn’t the way you would drive now, but transit in that case is competitive with driving around. It is only for trips headed south where clearly going north is a bad idea. But for many of those trips, using that bridge doesn’t make much sense.
I think the biggest problem is the mindset. If you are used to driving, it is hard to consider taking the bus. The temporary, sudden nature of the change didn’t help. Nor did the press coverage. I remember several reporters on the local NPR station talking about how suddenly it would be difficult to get to West Seattle, and maybe they should run the boat more often. These were reporters! They seemed oblivious to the fact that the buses ran on the lower bridge, with decent travel times from downtown. I purposely chose a meeting place close to Link (Roosevelt Station) so that my friend from West Seattle could meet me there. He drove. When I talked to him about it, he said was just used to driving. (To be fair, he had other errands and does live further south than a lot of people. He also said if we were headed to Capitol Hill he would have taken transit).
Mindsets can change. Someone mentioned that about Vancouver BC. They went from driving being the default to a mix of walking/transit/biking very quickly. But Seattle seems stuck on driving — they just consider it the default. Hopefully that will change over time. I have less hope for West Seattle than I do other places in the city though.
“3,600 people switched from driving to some other type of transport, while 1,000 people started telecommuting. “
I would attribute the traffic volume drop to people just forgoing making non-work trips in addition to telecommuting. Lots of people have driven across the bridge to have lunch or dinner in Alki, for example. People just chose to drive elsewhere when Alki took much longer to reach during the closure.
I’m surprised the volumes across didn’t drop even more. While the transit rider increase is great, the denominator of lower traffic volumes seems wrong. Had the volumes dropped more, the percentage would be lower — illustrating why it’s not a calculation that seems reasonable.
The better calculation would be to use total riders as the numerator, and the total trips [ridership + (vehicles times vehicle occupancy)] as the denominator. Then compare before and after to see the percent using transit for each situation.
“I’m surprised the volumes across didn’t drop even more.”
That was my take away too, Al. I thought WFH or “telework” would have been the biggest gainer and cars the biggest loser, although I don’t know how this data was gathered. Basically cars were banned on the lower bridge, and according to the Seattle Times a four minute crossing became a 40 minute drive around.
Instead it looks like total trips pre and post closure stayed the same. The 4600 drop in daily car trips was basically made up by walking, water taxi, transit, bike, etc. Maybe West Seattle does not have a demographic well suited to WFH, because in office work downtown is still down around 60%. It could also be that most of the trips were not work related or going to downtown Seattle where most of the alternative modes were going to.
According to the article buses also suffered from the bridge closure and so that might account for the rise in other modes like bike and water taxi rather than a larger rise in transit riders. My guess is now that the bridge is opened trip percentages will return to pre-closure, although I would still expect a much higher number of WFH from all modes.
The West Seattle Bridge provides such excellent access to I-90 and I-5 and 99, especially with lower congestion today, I think it is an anomaly, certainly compared with say Ballard. As Ross often notes, Capitol Hill is popular for Link because it is hard to get to by car. West Seattle is very easy to get to and from with the bridge, a 4 minute crossing according to the Times, better than even I-90 from the north end. Which is why as Martin notes even ST estimates very few car riders from West Seattle will switch from cars to Link despite the huge price tag.
“I suppose, but lots of trips go through downtown. It is “on the way”, as they put it.”
Downtown is on the way geographically, but unless traffic is really, really bad, it’s generally not on the way time-wise. There is nearly always considerable time savings bypassing downtown in a car, using either I-5 or SR-99 vs. driving all the way through downtown and stopping at every single light. And, of course, this is an addition to the passenger stops downtown, the 10’ish minutes it takes to wait downtown for a connecting bus, and the fact that the connecting bus, itself, likely has a lot of stops. And, of course, you’re already behind by about 15 minutes or so, minimum, just walking to and waiting for the bus on the West Seattle end, in most cases.
Each of these time factors seems small in isolation, but when you add them all up, you end up with a lot of trips that are, door to door, 75-90 minutes by transit, 25 minutes by car, with the West Seattle Bridge open. Even if the West Seattle bridge being closed adds 15 minutes to the car trip, but only 2 minutes to the transit trip, it just doesn’t move the needle all that much.
And all this is not even getting into the numerous trips that begin in West Seattle that don’t even involve the bridge. Anyone with a commute within West Seattle, or to anywhere to the south, the bridge closure is completely irrelevant. For some West Seattle local trips within the north part of West Seattle, the bridge closure may even result in *less* traffic than normal. Or the fact that, rationally or not, there are still a lot of people who consider transit an unacceptable COVID risk, while going maskless in public buildings all the time, like it’s nothing.
That’s why I’m not surprised at all that the modeshift of transit hasn’t changed more during the West Seattle bridge closure than it has.
There is nearly always considerable time savings bypassing downtown in a car, using either I-5 or SR-99 vs. driving all the way through downtown and stopping at every single light.
I-5 and SR-99 don’t bypass downtown. They go right through it. That is my point. You go through downtown, whether you stop there or not. Of course driving is faster (if there is no traffic). That is true for a ton of trips. But a trip from say, the West Seattle Junction to UW would have been competitive with transit a month ago. Now it isn’t. You used to have to make a huge detour while driving (while transit took a more direct route). Now both take a fairly direct route, except transit being transit, it makes stops.
I would attribute the traffic volume drop to people just forgoing making non-work trips in addition to telecommuting
As is often the case with The Urbanist, they don’t reference the data. They do attribute it to SDOT, but don’t have a link to where they got it. So I don’t know what the numbers are based on, but I assume it is a commuting study. People who used to drive over the bridge for work were asked to fill out questionnaires. It is very common for agencies to focus just on commuting (one of my pet peeves).
I agree though, a more general, all-day study would make sense. In place of “telecommuting” would be “trip avoidance” (with telecommuting being a subset of that). I’m sure those numbers would be a lot bigger. Then again, people who drive in the middle of the day might just drive over one of the other bridges. Fewer trips were taken to West Seattle, but I don’t know if anyone has ever bothered to ask who is actually using the bridge (is it mostly West Seattle residents, or visitors). Anecdotally, the folks I knew who visited people in West Seattle just drove, and complained about the traffic (instead of using transit).
The pandemic makes all of this very complicated. If this had happened five years ago, it is quite possible there would have been a big increase in transit use, including all-day transit use. But during the pandemic, people avoided trips, and when they took them, favored driving.
Did no one in this thread read the context of the figure in the Urbanist article or the Urbanist’s link to the Reconnect West Seattle project page, or even bother to read the title of SDOT’s figure?
“How People Get Around – Change Needed”
These numbers aren’t a measure of what actually happened. They’re an estimate of what mode changes SDOT was hoping to engender via the Reconnect West Seattle projects in order to fulfill transportation/access needs for West Seattleites while the bridge was out.
Ha, thanks Nathan. You are right, somehow I missed that. I read the article (a couple times). I didn’t realize that the chart was what they were hoping for, not what actually happened. I misinterpreted the chart based on the previous paragraph.
This begs the question — is there any data on modes during the closure? We should have bus data, if nothing else.
This is just plain wrong. In a world where people drop dead on the streets of Phoenix from the heat and Californians flee their burning sub-divisions, the relatively cool climate of the Northwest is going to be enormously attractive.
Population will grow in the next decade far more rapidly than the planners can imagine.
Weather aside, as long as the regional economy is strong population will grow robustly.
The irony Tom is the areas you mention are the fastest growing in the U.S. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/fastest-growing-states
If they wanted to these folks could move — or could have relocated — to any number of areas in the northern U.S. with lower housing prices, but chose the desert or Florida (based on the states I think taxes and political party had big influences). Most Californian’s leaving CA are relocating to Florida, Texas and Nevada. Go figure.
It could be water forces some relocation, unless snowfall returns to the Colorado basin. But the reality is farming uses most of the water in the Colorado compact, and CA which has senior rights has just been ordered to reduce water consumption dramatically (AZ and NV have already begun that process), so growing rice and almonds and other very intensive water uses will have to change.
As long as there is air-conditioning folks will live in these very hot areas. There is an abundance of solar energy if they want, and my guess is more and more houses in these hot and sunny areas will add solar panels with the new subsidies in the Inflation Reduction Act.
I had a vacation house in Phoenix from 1995 to 2012. I wondered how folks could live there during the summer (in dry heat around 105 is the cutoff to be outside) but they would ask how could I tolerate our long cold dark winters.
If there is water and air-conditioning they will stay where they are. I think this region has made mistakes by assuming ahistorical population growth would continue forever, like building a 90 mile Link spine.
Daniel, yes, Arizona has been one of the fastest growing areas, but it is at an inflection point. Humans just can’t stand Temps above 115 for long without shelter, and yes, though everyone has air conditioned houses and cars, and many houses have solar panels, cars break down, and the grid goes down. Most panel installations are “net metered” and don’t have the necessary infrastructure for ” going off the grid”.
So as daytime highs rise above 115 more frequently, folks will die in ever greater numbers. Believe what you want; folks are going to be forced to retreat northward again.
Tom, I am just looking at current migration and population growth numbers and patterns. I can’t predict the future, and those who try like the PSRC are always biased in their predictions. I agree 115 degrees is unbearable outside, especially in an urban area with pavement.
I remember running to the car in Phoenix one summer when it was 115 in a parking lot. The heat off the pavement would make you panic a bit (especially when you had just exited a business that was 67 degrees). You had to open the door and turn on the car and air conditioning and wait outside for the heat inside the car to cool and the seatbelt to become cool enough to touch. Still I would see the Mexicans outside roofing.
We were down there to meet some contractors. My son and I were at the pool at the Biltmore hotel on July 5 and at midnight the temp. on the sign said 99 degrees, which is not bad if you are sitting in a pool. The other 8 to 9 months/year however are lovely, and we loved getting away from this area’s bleak winters and springs and to move our vitamin D levels off of zero.
But I could say the same about areas in the north. I had a friend who went to U. of Michigan. The campus is filled with tunnels because in the winter just going outside risks frostbite. In the summers the heat and humidity — and bugs — are terrible. I have raced to the car in the winter due to the cold.
I have known many folks who did not grow up in the northwest but who moved here move away again because they just found it too gloomy and dark, and as I get older the long winters do get depressing, which is why winter sports in this area are so key. They would rather spend 3 or 4 months inside in Phoenix during the summer and 8 or 9 months outside than spending well over 50% of their lives inside in the PNW.
On the flip side you could have weather like southern CA, but then you end up with 20 million residents. I really don’t want more people to move to this area because of the strain it puts on infrastructure, housing costs, traffic congestion (pre-pandemic), use of trails and parks, etc. “Urbanism” usually means a lower quality of life.
I would much rather build an overcapacity light rail system and end up having to subsidize it with general tax revenue for operations because ridership does not meet farebox recovery (which based on ST’s ridership estimates is a given anyway) than have 3 or 4 million additional residents move to this area to fund our transit system or meet ST’s ridership estimates, because no matter what transit will always be underfunded no matter what the population is, and you see that in much larger cities than Seattle.
I can guarantee you those additional 3 to 4 million residents are not going to live in dense multi-family housing in downtown Seattle, because that is not the housing they will be coming from. They are going to live, depending on income, on the eastside, Tacoma, SFH zones between Seattle and SnoCo, between Seattle and Tacoma, Tacoma, Pierce Co., Kitsap Co., and just like SnoCo those counties and cities are going to move to amend the GMA to allow subdivisions to accommodate those folks. The Issaquah-Hobart road to Ravensdale will suddenly look like Wallingford.
Let’s begin with two assumptions:
1. We are going to have to figure out a way to subsidize Link with general fund tax revenues. Ok, but let’s not destroy the character of the region to do it. Rather than forcing folks to live in TOD or dreaming of millions of weather migrants coming to the area let’s just accept building a 90 mile spine was a poor decision, but once built we have to fund operations because ST lied about ridership and future O&M costs. So tax me a bit more, but don’t ruin the zoning of my neighborhood.
2. You can’t force people to live in a type of housing they don’t want to live in, certainly to support some kind of transit or urbanism fantasy. If you like to live without a car and in a very dense area do so, and let the others subsidize that decision. You can do that on the eastside too. Look at me:
I now walk to work through a 15 minute town center, and hardly drive at all although ironically I pay vehicle fees and taxes on four cars. But don’t try and change what they do or want when it comes to housing and transportation. At least that is my view.
I think post pandemic the ahistorical population growth in this region isn’t going to continue, and people will travel less with WFH. Mostly what we will see is inter-region migration with the overall population staying flat or growing at rates less than 1%/year. So plan for that, and wish ST had planned for that, except ST became drunk with delusions of grandeur that will require more general fund taxes to cover operations that will get even worse as the spine moves more and more into nowhere.
I will admit that the fires and the smoke resulting are going to decrease the attractiveness of the Northwest.
“With city and regional future population growth looking to be flat or even decrease slightly”
What??? A city and region that has grown steadily if not dramatically since the Boeing bust is suddenly going to shrink? Why?
Hmmm. I think even if Seattle were to stop growing, 90 miles of light rail would be, if anything, less than a metro area of 3-4 million people deserves. Though more light rail within Seattle itself is sorely needed and building so much suburban rail does seem like maybe not the best use of resources, we have to take what we get in the US and I’m happy that at least Seattle is building something useful.
I feel the opposite. I think we *won’t* build something useful, because we are building something that is very expensive, but won’t provide much benefit. At this point — or rather when all of the ST2 rail projects are finally completed — we would be much better off just sinking our money into bus improvements and infill stations.
This evening Link was down north of U-District due to an electrical failure. The replacement shuttle and 67 stopped at the same stop, so I got on the 67 and asked the driver if it still goes to UW Station and the 65. He said it does. I mentioned that Link was broken, and he said others had said the same thing. He said he couldn’t wait for Link to get to Everett where he lives, and talked about he and his family taking Link and buses everywhere between Everett and Kent. I asked if he reads the Seattle Transit Blog, thinking he might be a regular. He said he hadn’t heard of it.
That was from Roosevelt. At UW Station the trains were screwed up too. Two northbound trains came through on the southbound track. A southbound train came on the northbound track. The northbound trains said “Northgate”; the southbound train said “Sound Transit”. I got on the southbound train. It sat for a couple minutes, then an announcement said it was going out of service and everybody had to get off. So I got off. Then a couple minutes later it opened its doors again and the guard said it would go southbound, so I got on again. The display changed to “Angle Lake”, but the next station displays were counting down from Northgate.
I should have transferred to the 49 and assumed Link south of U-District would take time to return to normal.
I enjoyed the YouTube video you linked about living without a car. I especially liked the comparison of safe pedestrian zones to being on an archipelago or island area. Thank you.
Anyone have any additional details about the northern segment of Link that was shut down for quite a few hours yesterday?
No, but on a more general note, is it just me or are there a lot more Link disruptions than there used to be in the last few months? I’m not sure if ST is just getting better at communicating them when they do happen, or if there is an actual decrease in reliability.
Generally speaking, the longer, older and more complicated your system, the more likely you are to have outages. I would guess that the New York Subway has way more outages per person than the Toronto subway. It is just a lot bigger, older and more complicated.
Of course funding has a lot to do with it as well. The US does not value maintenance. This goes for roads, bridges, sewers — you name it. We don’t like to pay the full cost of things, and then when they break, we freak out and look for someone to blame. Then we go out and build something new, without bothering to think about maintenance.
Anyway, Link is still fairly new, but it is about 20 years old now, so it isn’t surprising that it has the occasional maintenance issue. It is also pretty good size now. It is not as long as a big-city metro, but it is within the ballpark (it is about half the size of the Montreal Metro). More metro, more problems.
It’s definitely a good point about the age of the system, and at least ST is committed to funding maintenance in perpetuity. Looking at my email archive for the last month, though, for messages with subject “1 Line” from govdelivery.com shows that there’s an announcement made about problems nearly every day, and those problems were severe enough for buses to replace at least part of the route on Sept 2, 3, 4, 10, 14, and 20. Some of these problems were outside of ST’s control, in particular for the at-grade Rainier Valley segment, but it does seem particularly bad right now and definitely would be off-putting to someone who is new to transit or newly-returning.
The operator on my SB discretionary trip this morning said an earlier NB had gone out of service and all the Link traffic got bunched up while it cleared. Next stop info was “challenged” and the operator kept having to correct it.
The previous issue was some sort of electrical problem, but I don’t know the details.
I did notice a week or so ago that one of the stations was displaying real time arrival info, but it was only displaying on some monitors and only in one direction. So I sort of wonder if they are working on the systems in advance of going live with RTAI.
That was the same mess I was in in my Sept 20 10:56pm comment. The guard said it was an electrical failure, which I interpreted as deenerginzing the wire because the lights and displays were on. He said trains would start running soon (this was around 7:45pm), but a guy on the platform said the last tweet he’d gotten was that it might not be fixed until 10pm. I waited on the platform a few minutes and then took a bus.
My friend in north Lynnwood was caught in it at 4pm (although I didn’t know that until this evening). She was at U-District station I think, and went up to get the shuttle bus. It didn’t come for a long time, and some ninety people accumulated at the bus stop waiting for it. She ended up taking a southbound train to downtown and the 415 to Lynnwood.
“I did notice a week or so ago that one of the stations was displaying real time arrival info”
I saw it one day. It may have been last week or Monday. At Capitol Hill the northbound times said “5, 15, 25” and were right. The southbound times had an implausable “45, 55, 65 min” or such. I hope that wasn’t right. Since that day they’ve been off again. Probably because they’re still so inaccurate. They used to say the most outlandish things in 2020, like a train not coming for an hour, but then it actually comes five or ten minutes later. But you never know if it will or not.
The most outlandish things it said were gibberish, nonsense symbols instead of times.
Somehow, TriMet’s old Crown-Ikarus buses come to mind. The displays on those were infamous for doing strange things, usually involving random parentheses appearing.
(If your destination sign needs parentheses, chances are your route structure is way too complicated.)
“are there a lot more Link disruptions than there used to be in the last few months?”
I don’t recall train outages increasing, but escalators and elevators are continuing their usual saga. But yesterday’s experience reminded me I’ve been in a half dozen Link outages since U-Link opened, or I’d ridden it shortly before or after the outage.
Then there’s the time at Roosevelt where I got to the station and the display had a red “Fire. Evacuate.” message and was beeping. But there was no crowd coming out, the gate was open, and a few people were going in and out as normal, so I didn’t know whether to believe the sign. I hesitated a few minutes and then went down, looking for a guard to ask, but there was no guard anywhere, and no fire. A few minutes later a train came and I got on. I don’t know whether to call that an outage or not. But if the display deterred some people, it was an outage for them.
I was in the U-district at the time and noticed a bunch of Link shuttle buses. Fortunately, it didn’t impact me, as I was going east/west, not north/south, so was going to be relying on buses anyway.
Traffic Armageddon on Mercer Island this weekend. I-90 WB will be down to one lane in the island itself while they replace an expansion joint.
It the very first comment makes an excellent point. You can totally avoid the I-90 backup by simply exiting to Mercer Island and taking the surface streets!
1). Just take exit #7 to Island Crest Way.
2). Go straight to 76th St and turn right.
3). Follow the road around the north end of the island and re-enter the freeway at the sign.
It is easy, straight forward, and will work great!
WSDOT should put up some Mivable Message Boards informing approaching motorists of this option. It even if they don’t, many of the dynamic traffic apps will probably route people onto this detour.
It will not avoid the backup because everybody has Waze, therefore, everybody will be doing it, until the surface streets become just a clogged as the highway.
On the other hand, riding a bike down the trail absolutely will avoid the backup.
I generally hate Waze, but it isn’t the only app out there that people use.
And, yes, that suggested route will become congested. But it isn’t the only option on the island. It’s also possible to go south on the island first, then turn back and approach the on-ramp from the other direction.
And Mercer Island could make the whole surface street bypass thing work a lot better by stationing police officers at the major intersections to insure that traffic moves smoothly.
I-90 goes to one lane westbound today at 2. Tomorrow all westbound lanes are closed so Lazarus may find himself trapped on MI.
Actually cutting through was a problem before I-90 was widened to four lanes and the bottlenecks removed. The reduced traffic from WFH has totally eliminated cutting through because there is no congestion.
Hopefully MI police make a windfall in tickets on those cutting through but I doubt many will. They will take 520 or I-5. Today I am near Auburn so I will take I-5 back and I-90 eastbound. In just three or four short years I can take East Link across the bridge during I-90 closures.
Smooth flow of traffic should be the 4243rd priority of police officers. When SOV are stuck in traffic, everyone wins.
It will not avoid the backup because everybody has Waze, therefore, everybody will be doing it, until the surface streets become just a clogged as the highway.
Correct, except I would substitute “apps” for “Waze” specifically (I don’t have Waze, but Google Maps will tell me the same thing). Even before the phones were recommending back ways, people would take them. This is why you really can’t avoid traffic in this manner. I’ve been in this exact situation, and even when the shutdown was temporary and unexpected, traffic quickly backed up on Mercer Island and you were no better off taking the exit.
I’m sure this idea has a name, with plenty of evidence to support it. Given an educated public, traffic reaches an equilibrium point with each route taking roughly the same time. This is why, for example, Swift Blue will not save time by using Meridian to get from 200th and Aurora to the 185th station. If anything, it will cost it time, as at least Aurora has bus lanes.
I drove by the westbound entrance onto I-90 from West Mercer Way on MI a few minutes ago and there was very little traffic or cars using this entrance. I live on N. Mercer Way which is part of the old cut through route and very little traffic. Westbound traffic on the bridge looked very robust for one lane feeding it. Apparently the West Mercer Way entrance is closed Friday to Monday along with I-90 westbound except for “essential service” (which hopefully includes Islanders but probably does not).
The exit from I-90 westbound into the MI town center has been experiencing huge backups onto I-90 even before lane closures. This light is called “the big left” and must handle cars exiting I-90, Islanders turning left onto N. Mercer Way to catch I-90 westbound, , and cars from two other directions. I believe WSDOT controls the light sequencing but no one knows why there are such large backups on I-90 with cars trying to exit which is dangerous because of rear end collisions at 50mph. The delays at this exit and huge backups may discourage drivers trying to use MI to circumvent the backup, especially this exit is near the end of the lane closure.
So this exit is pretty miserable these days even during normal traffic with I-90 fully opened. UW starts Monday and many of us will have to use 520 to help drop our kids off this weekend.
One thing is you see much less complaining by drivers about highway lane closures for necessary maintenance than you do from transit riders when transit is closed or rerouted for repairs or maintenance. Closures for repairs are just part of life.
If the West Mercer on-ramp to I-90 WB is open to MI residents under an “essential service” exemption, then it is open to all drivers equally. Because there is nothing more “essential” than getting off that island.
All Americans are equal, and should be treated equally.
I would certainly attempt this bypass if I found myself on WB I-90 this weekend. And if MI put some cops at the entrance to the freeway and attempted to check my ID before allowing me to continue, then they would be talking to my lawyer.
And after that I’d go take a nap in the park until traffic cleared a bit. Maybe appreciate the rhododendrons a bit. Assuming that is still legal for an off islander.
Lazarus, the city of MI just posted the westbound entrance to I-90 at West Mercer Way will be open for “local access only” Friday to Sunday. . I doubt that if you decided to get in miles of westbound traffic on I-90 that will have all four westbound lanes closed at Island Crest Way and snaked your way to an exit onto MI and then navigated the surface streets to the westbound entrance at West Mercer Way the local police would stop you.
Or you could save two hours and take 520 across the lake although it might cost you a few bucks.
The WSDOT info on the closure makes no mention of any restrictions whatsoever. I would suggest that the supposed MI specific restrictions aren’t official.
Additionally, what does “local access only” mean when the on-ramp in question only leads to one destination- off island.
If the “locale” being accessed is not on the island at all, and is in fact predominately Seattle and its environs, does that mean that the on-ramp is restricted just to Seattle residents? Or just to people heading to Seattle? I hope not. That wouldn’t be fair.
If any MI cop tried to prevent me from using that ramp, I’d just point across the lake at Seattle and say, “I’m a Seattle local, that is what I am trying to access, and that is where the on-ramp goes. This is local access. That is what I am attempting to do.”
And if that didn’t work, then I’d make sure everything was documented and game on!
what does “local access only”
It basically means that you have to be heading towards somewhere local (in this case, somewhere on Mercer Island). If you left the freeway to visit some place in Mercer Island, no problem. But if you leave the freeway, drive over to the other side of the island and get back on the freeway, a cop could pull you over and give you a ticket. You could then argue your case. If you are a good enough liar, you could avoid getting a ticket. If the cop gives you a ticket, you can fight it in court.
I actually had that happen to me while cross country skiing on the Mountain Loop Highway. Long story short, I felt I was in the right, but the cops disagreed. It is quite likely I could have won the case in court, but I didn’t feel like fighting it, so I just paid the ticket. Your choice.
The comment section applauds and supports local access only streets when they are labeled Safe Streets, but is angered by local access only streets when they don’t use that label?
– Sam. Foremost Expert.
Safe Streets are local access streets. It says so explicitly on all the signs.
So Safe Streets, and restricting the WB W Mercer Way on-ramp to Seattle residents only, actually align.
Not that I agree with any restrictions on that I-90 on-ramp.
I see your point Lazarus. As a point of order you should drive your car across I-90 westbound across the bridge, edit onto MI at the West Mercer exit, turn left, and turn left again onto I-90 back to Seattle.
Happens all the time. Any MI police will figure you just got lost and somehow got onto I-90 westbound on the bridge and need to turn around.
Post pandemic not many islanders take this entrance west any more.
But by all means park in the parking lot by the park and stroll through the Lid Park before heading back to Seattle. . It is very pretty and tranquil this time of year and not overcrowded like so many Seattle parks.
It probably is a bit silly to state this entrance is “local access only” since what off -Island driver is going to deal with the traffic nightmare on I-90 westbound (considering all four westbound lanes will be closed on MI) to get off on MI to weave around the surface streets to access the West Mercer Way entrance.
My advice is to use I-5 (like I did today, 45 minutes from Lakewood to MI — or 520 — or drive around the north of Lake Washington. Which is exactly what Waze will tell you to do.
For Islanders it isn’t going west that is the issue. It is going east, because how do you get back, and most Island traffic is going east these days. My guess is Friday will be a big WFH day for Islanders.
By Monday I-90 will be back to normal.
“local access only” does not mean “locals only”. Where you are from has nothing to do with it. You could be visiting from New York City and want to go to a park on Mercer Island. No problem. That is perfectly legal. What you can’t do is use the roads on the island as a through-route (during the duration of this work).
Saying “local access only” does not, in any way, say that you can’t use MI streets to bypass congestion on I-90. That statement does not address other streets on MI at all.
It is still perfectly legal to exit I-90 at exits #7 or #8, drive around MI on city streets, and then re-enter I-90 WB after an appropriate amount of time. We all still do have our rights, even on MI.
So what exactly is MI up to with this non-closure closure of the W Mercer Way on-ramp to I-90? Simply stated, they are manipulating the traffic apps that people use.
By declaring the on-ramp “closed”, but then not really closing it, they effectively remove that street from consideration in the algorithms the various tech companies use to route users around congestion. As far as the app is concerned, if that on-ramp is “closed”, it is as if it doesn’t exist mathematically.
The only routing options then become slog through on the one I-90 lane that remains open, go around the north end of the lake on either SR-520 or via Bothel, or go around the south end of the lake. MI is protected from those nasty traffic apps that aim to destroy their lifestyle!
So the closure actually has nothing to do with the occasional savvy driver that figures out that they can ignore the traffic app and still make it through. And the cop guarding the entrance to the off-ramp will be happy to let you pass. Because as an off-islander you are one of the undesirable people, and they will be happy to be done with you.
Remember, this is the city that banned sleeping on sidewalks, banned sleeping in parks, banned sleeping in cars, and banned sleeping in RV’s that are legally parked on city streets and moved daily. This is also the same city that once tasked their police officers with rounding up homeless people, driving them to other cities, and dumping them outside homeless shelters that were on record as having no space, no services, and no food for them.
So this is just more of the same from MI, but it is just a wee bit more clever. Got to hand it to them on this one.
WSDOT’s messaging is explicitly to NOT do this. From their website: “People traveling from the Eastside to the west side of Lake Washington will need to use either I-405 or SR 520, which is a toll bridge.” https://wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/search-projects/i-90-homer-hadley-east-approach-bridge-modular-expansion-joint
Whatever else you think of Mercer Island, it’s local arterials are not set up to handle anywhere near the full load of I-90 traffic. We’re not here to maximize traffic throughput on local roads; people (like me) live in these neighborhoods and my kids walk and bike on these streets. So please do not do this, have some respect for the local residents. If you must, please ride your bike and watch out for construction happening on the bike path.
Lazarus, reports are that it takes two hours to get to on I-90 from the east but modest congestion at the West Mercer entrance westbound. I went to a Seattle this afternoon and pretty easy there and back. But brutal getting to MI from east of MI. But the good news is if you take two hours to get to MI you can use the entrance at West Mercer. If you are an Islander and must go to the Eastside you are screwed. In the end the only folks disadvantaged by the closure are Islanders although we don’t bitch about it. The expansion joint dates from 1989 when the bridge was built. Too bad East Link didn’t open in 2020 as promised.
What I think you are trying to say is that it is taking 2 hrs to get onto MI from the East, and that this is somehow some sort of burden.
Sorry, cry me a river. Because such situations are really just self inflicted.
If MI had a policy of encouraging real development around both the so called Town Center and the shopping center at the south end (near Pioneer Park), instead of actively discouraging it, then maybe MI residents wouldn’t need to go off-island near as often. Maybe, just maybe, they could weather a temporary situation like this without having to get stuck in 2 hr backups multiple times.
As the saying goes, “you reap what you sow”.
But hey, with high capacity LR coming soon, MI has another opportunity to try to get things right.
Lazarus, you are correct. I meant to say the wait was two hours coming from the east. But not too bad reentering I-90 going west from West Mercer Way b
From what I have read it was around 50/50. Half were Islanders who had to go to work or a medical appointment and didn’t think traffic would be so bad ( and remember, this same Bellevue to MI trip on Friday afternoon took at least 60 minutes every Friday pre-pandemic so I can understand Islanders getting complacent with today’s usual lack of congestion) and half were off-Islanders who either had to come to MI or didn’t know about the closure until they were past the last exit off I-90 before MI. Ironically WSDOT and the news were telling those folks to turn around when they got to MI and go back east and drive around although I hope they knew enough to drive to the entrance at West Mercer Way if they had to get to Seattle so badly.
All the Islanders I saw at the bar last night who got stuck in the traffic were pretty relaxed with it since the expansion joint is 33 years old and we want people and cargo to get from the U.S. east of Seattle to Seattle, because really I-90 benefits Seattle the most, especially this joint at the far western edge of MI. So you should be thanking us
I don’t know what you are talking about having to leave MI. We have two shopping centers, and something called Amazon Prime. Quite a few Seattleites come to MI to shop at the QFC or Met Market. The nice thing about WFH is you don’t have to leave the Island unless maybe you need to go to a hospital.
We also have a very large multi-family zone and allow multi-family housing in our commercial zone, although like most Eastside cities we also have SFH only zones. But the existence of the SFH zones alone does not explain why housing on MI — both SFH and multi-family — is much higher than say Kent or Auburn or West Seattle. Your animosity towards MI is clearly directed at the high cost of housing, both multi-family and SFH, but you don’t seem to understand why the housing is so expensive, and want to blame the residents for creating a city and community where many want to live. If the zoning allowed even more housing (MI is one of the few cities to have met its GMPC housing growth targets to date) it still would not be affordable, if that is your goal.
Yikes, Eastside Nextdoors are blowing up over WSDOT’s partial closure. Apparently people were getting out of their cars on I-90 to go the bathroom on I-90, and the majority of drivers reaching MI after up to 3.5 hours were not Islanders but people going to Seattle who didn’t anticipate the gridlock, including navigating MI to the West Mercer Way entrance.
Best to use I-5 or 405/520 if you are going to the Husky game since East Link won’t open for 3 to 4 years and has made the center roadway unusable for buses and cars which is what WSDOT used in the pas during closures. Good to see East Link screwing eastsiders already. I felt especially bad for anyone on the 550 waiting in line to go up 24th to get to the West Mercer Way entrance.
The consensus on MI is all MI entrances westbound should have been closed on MI and that clearly communicated. Better to have Islanders drive around — probably 30 to 40 minutes to Seattle — than having Islanders, and others, spending three hours to get to West Mercer Way. By far the larger percentage of folks getting stuck in that traffic nightmare we’re non-Islanders, who had alternatives even if 520 costs a few bucks.
Hopefully the message gets out: don’t use I-90 to get to Seattle, and as one post recommended bring a honey bucket if you do.
The irony for most islanders is we can get to and from Seattle fairly easily if you already on the Island, but we have become so Eastside oriented few Islanders go to Seattle.
Lazarus, irony of ironies: the mayor of MI has just released a letter to WSDOT repeating MI’s request from before the lane closure: ALL westbound entrances to I-90 on MI be closed and that communicated to Seattle drivers who are the problem.
Local politicians, state reps, WSDOT, Inslee, and WSP have received thousands of irate emails, never good with elections in a little over a month.
I am sure this is a very good lesson for all involved about the risk of reducing car capacity, at least on the Eastside, which is why I thing cars vs. transit is not a good strategy for transit advocates (or those hoping to “revitalize” 3rd Ave.).
Will be interesting to see what WSDOT does.
WSDOT just announced they closed the westbound entrance onto I-90 at West Mercer Way trapping thousand of Seattle drivers who must now navigate off MI to drive east to drive around to Seattle. Some very unhappy looking drivers along my street.
This will remove the drive through traffic from MI. Islanders will now be able to go to and from the Eastside but not Seattle unless they drive around (with both Huskies and Hawks at home). Not sure what ST and Metro will do with the cross lake buses across MI.
I might be confused, but didn’t WSDOT announce that all westbound driving lanes would close days (or maybe even weeks) ago? The Seattle Times had an article about it, which I read despite not even being a driver. It’s surprising that residents of an island with only two ways on and off wouldn’t be prepared for times when those connections need to be maintained.
To your question about island bus service, the Seattle Times article reports that westbound service for the 550 and 554 will be via Bellevue/520, while eastbound service is unaffected. It would be a bit inconvenient but you could travel east and then transfer to the westbound bus.
Alternatively, folks with bikes can just carry on and take advantage of the fact that the closure does not affect the trail.
Skylar, apparently people driving to Seattle didn’t get the message to drive around, although 405 to I-5 on Friday afternoon is usually not good either. Funneling four lanes of I-90 onto MI to then drive through MI to re-enter I-90 westbound at West Mercer Way was a bad idea. Some folks complained of a 5+ hour drive just to reach MI. I do feel bad for Seattle drivers who got all the way to West Mercer Way today to be turned around and told to drive back through MI which was horribly backed up to drive around.
So now WSDOT has closed all westbound entrances from MI and put up signage to turn around Seattle drivers before they reach MI. . An Island resident can still get to Seattle via 520 or 405 south to I-5 which don’t have much traffic on weekends. I plan to stay on the Island for the next few days although I work here now anyway and have no need to leave.
How is the 550 westbound doing today (Saturday)? The Times said it would take 520 but the Metro weekend email said it wouldn’t miss any stops but would have delays, which I take to mean I-90. Hopefully the Times us correct and Metro changed it’s mind because I’ll be doing it later today and maybe tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t take 2-3 hours to get home.
Visible from eastbound bus: no traffic at MI P&R. Westbound bus us apparently waiting. Westbound fwy entrance at P&R is closed. One lane of westbound cars lined up from MI to at least Bellevue Way. Cars flowing from Bellevue Way to entrance.
In other words, a “550 Seattle” bus was sitting at MI P&R with it’s turn signal on. I wasn’t sure if it was loading or waiting. That suggests the westbound 550 is on I-90 and went through that line of cars east of the P&R. Unless it’s a MI-Seattle shuttle.
My driver said he went on I-90 westbound and it took half an hour extra, and the line is longer now.
Hopefully I can take the 271 on the way back.
Have you looked at the traffic flow maps lately? MI surface streets have degenerated into total gridlock. Much worse than yesterday when the WB on-ramp at W Mercer Way was sort of open. MI has shot themselves in the traffic foot once again.
Even EB I-90 is gridlocked leaving the island. And those aren’t Seattle drivers trying to get off the island, those are MI residents trying to get into Seattle to attend the the Husky game, visit family, or attend various cultural events.
Maybe MI could use a little technical advice from SDOT on how to handle traffic flow. Because SDOT might not be perfect, but they do understand traffic congestion, and they would never do anything so counterproductive as close all exits going WB of an island.
But hey, I’m glad I’m watching this from a distance! I made the wise decision this weekend and declined to go hiking on the pass. Looks like the correct call now.
I walked down to the West Mercer westbound ramp to take a look. The north end of MI looks like a Seahawks game just got out. I felt bad for all the Seattle bound drivers who made it all the way to the western tip of MI to be told the entrance was suddenly closed and to try and grind back east on clogged roads to get tovI-90 eastbound to then drive around. WSDOT made the call not MI. The drivers looked very frustrated with several more hours of driving ahead of them.
At least buses were allowed to enter I-90 at West Mercer. I saw the police let the 554 enter. If the congestion was not so bad just to get to the West Mercer entrance a bus would be a good option, especially to Link if you are going to the Husky game, although my brother is driving across 520 for the game.
If this is what increased population density looks like no thanks.
The Seattle bound drivers simply refused to follow advice to drive around. Tolls on 520 should have been suspended. But you can’t funnel four lanes of I-90 onto the surface streets of MI to get to West Mercer. Seattle drivers are either privileged or stupid.
The word must be getting out because the traffic congestion is dying down. I think my wife and I will walk into town for some sushi and watch the Husky game on TV. I imagine most Islanders will do the same. No reason to leave MI. I wonder what all those Seattle drivers are doing on the Eastside.
Westbound 550, 5:45pm. Travel time: 45 minutes, same as an ordinary peak-hour trip. I-90 was eerily empty between Bellevue and Mercer Island, with only five presumably islander cars. Two displays said, “I-90 bridge closed. No Seattle access.”
After the MI P&R the bus went on SE 24th Street to the western entrance. That’s the part of my Mercer Island walk I didn’t do, so I saw west Mercer Island for the first time. The street goes over a hill, with McMansions along it and then some century-old houses.
In his latest video RMTransit is making a point about why Seattle is not providing more frequent service: https://youtu.be/DzofaSm8pSw by comparing Seattle to Vancouver.
His point is that frequency is the most important feature of transit, not fancy stations or trains, in fact even people mover technology may be better than a fancy train or BRT as long as service is frequent and reliable. So why are we thinking about a 2nd tunnel if a single tunnel could provide double frequency if we upgrade the electrical system?!?
Of course using automated train or gondola systems would also make such infrastructure more affordable and you don’t have to worry about hiring and training of new drivers either.
I feel that frequency — and span of service — is most important, echoing Reece’s comments. It’s a big reason that I bristle at throwing money at South King Sounder improvements. If the money was spent on making Sounder operate all day with more trains at peaks if they ever get back to crowded (a huge climb considering Sounder’s awful 2022 ridership compared to 2019) it would seem better. Meanwhile, we will have all-day frequent trains on Link just 2.5 miles west in 2025.
We will have a real example of the trade-off for South King in 2025. Let’s at least pause Sounder projects until then to see if day- long frequency is a strong draw when FW Link operates a few months.
It is midnight on a weekend. I am on a RapidRide D headed out of downtown. There are 16 folks in riding the bus to wherever they’re going for $2.75 instead of hailing a rideshare.
That’s 8-16 trips that aren’t being taken by car.
A dozen cars off the road? Maybe. A dozen trips taken by 1/100th of 24-hour transit? Yes.
That’s what we’re here for. Trying to convince the affluent islanders of the region that midnight transit is worth subsidizing for anyone who wants (not just anyone who “needs” it) is a waste of the precious little time we each have.
Question – is there a place to get ridership for ST and Metro buses broken down by line? The only info I’ve found has been aggregated.
ST – https://www.soundtransit.org/ride-with-us/system-performance-tracker/ridership – monthly as of July 2022, but not broken down by line
Metro – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tFUsbWmfk3A6MdQjuxWg3JUYs7vqbSt62JRQY1V3fKI/pubhtml?gid=1914679577&single=true, not broken down by line and monthly but only as of April 2022.
“Seattle’s housing market is slowing faster than any in the country.”
Why do you read such a sensationalist fact-twisting source? Oh, because you’re a troll. Seattle’s prices are among the highest in the country. So if they come down, they’re just coming back toward average. And they’ve only come a little way; they’re still far higher. That indicates that Seattle is very desirable, or the housing shortage is most acute here, or both.
Before 2008 the average time-on-market for a house/condo was 24 weeks (6 months). Since then it’s been 1-4 weeks, sometimes up to 6. That’s why prices rose so rapidly and are so high. The article gave only scant mention to this, saying “34 percent fewer homes were sold within two weeks of being posted on the market than the year before” but not saying what the average length is now, which is the important issue.
After the article blubbers about “prices along West Coast metropolitan areas are understood to be dipping because of a glut of properties on the market, amid a mass exodus of citizens deterred by rising mortgage rates, crime, and warnings of a looming recession” — most of which isn’t true — it finally says something plausable buried 2/3 into the article: “‘Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather of the brokerage firm’s recent study. ‘They’re slowing down partly because so many people have been priced out and partly because last year’s record-low rates made them unsustainably hot. ”
There’s no “glut” of properties in Seattle or Pogetopolis, no mass outmigration, and no mass outmigration because of crime. You’d think it’s describing Detroit or the Boeing Bust. Prices may have dipped a little but, but will it last more than a month or quarter? There have been several supposed dips since covid started, and they’ve all been short-lived.
The only kind of glut there is, is when several new apartment buildings open simultaneously in one neighborhood. Then it takes a year or two to fill them all up, and rents drop or remain flat until then. Those are all high-end units, $2300+, so it’s a separate market from those looking for workforce or median housing. Houses don’t really have this situation, because you don’t get hundreds of them opening in one neighborhood simultaneously.
Mortgage rates and the fact we are heading into a recession are the main reasons housing sales are declining nation wide. Actual housing prices — especially rental — have not declined much yet. Stock market declines have erased $10 TRILLION in U.S. wealth. Mortgage rates more than doubling make the cost of buying a house almost $800/month more for an average U.S. SFH, up from $1000/month from 10 years ago.
However, Seattle housing prices vs. other regional area housing prices do suggest factors in Seattle are moving folks to other areas. Historically these reasons have been the same: public safety, schools, jobs. Seattle housing prices are increasing the least in the region.
The big difference is if you don’t need to commute to Seattle you don’t need to live nearby. Basically we are seeing de-urbanization nation wide. The article is correct that certain west coast cities have adopted policies that have turned off families. Which is why Harrell was elected.
The recent decline in the housing market is exactly why builders have built less housing than needed since 2008. The world could not exist with zero fed funds rates forever.
In 2008 in the Summit area, practically every other building had a “For Rent” sign, at least one per block. That was a glut of housing, and it lasted 1.5 – 2 years. So, I should see “For Sale” signs all over Seattle neighborhoods now, at least one per block? One every two blocks? One every three blocks? I’m not seeing them.
“Seattle’s housing market is slowing faster than any in the country.”
Yeah, and when Usain Bolt was dominating the 100 meters, I remember that we would slow faster than any other sprinter towards the end. That’s what happens when you are the fastest.
A lot of people were suggesting a crash in the Seattle market, since costs skyrocketed in the last ten years. Instead, prices are still going up, just not at the breakneck speed of before. Meanwhile, what about rents? Still extremely expensive, despite thousands of units being added to the city. Of course there is a leveling off. Once prices reach a certain level, you simply can’t afford it. You then start looking for other places nearby, and that pushes those prices up.
I know this doesn’t fit into a “Seattle is dying” fantasy that some folks have, but the fact is, Seattle is still really expensive because way more people want to live here than there are places to live.
As the I-90 closure stuff above isn’t a transit related thread, I’ll start one relevant to transit users here:
I notice that the map is showing I-5 closed, but upon closer inspection, it looks like this is just the map reporting that the express lanes are closed.
With the mess on 520, I-5 and I-405, and pretty much everything else, is it time yet to consider doing something different with the I-5 express lanes?
Eg (but not necessarily this), it seems like they could be used to create a Bellevue – 520 – Seattle HOV route under the current circumstances that would allow the Eastside buses better access to downtown Seattle than the current mess.
I don’t know the exact layout of these lanes and it’s hard to differentiate the express lanes from normal lanes on the map. Maybe this wouldn’t work. It sure seems like a hell of a lot of north-south capacity sitting there idle when it could be used to divert transit away from this mess.
To think the closure of an interstate is not “transit related” is odd. Do buses fly? I can’t think of anyone more disadvantaged by hours of delay to cross I-90 that was suppose to be transit and local access westbound only than transit riders.
I am told the motivation for WSDOT to close the West Mercer entrance was a school bus of children heading to MI took 5 hours to reach MI. Our 41st reps all have kids and like my wife are involved in the PTA, sports, anything school related. It transit advocates could figure out how to get Eastside moms interested in transit all your funding issues would be solved.
Forget about disadvantaging Eastside cars and SUV’s in favor of buses until you figure out a way to convince this Uber political group of women to buy in. To them transit means men without jobs and drug addicts. They complained to Inslee and their 41st reps and they jumped.
You (transit advocates) get WSDOT to close the West Mercer entrance to Seattle and then you can talk about repurposing freeways for transit.
None of the discussion above relates to transit until several replies deep into the thread, or discusses how to make the situation better for transit users, and only mentions several bus routes as afterthoughts.
Since transit is the primary purpose of this web site, it seems like having a thread discussing the situation from an actual transit users perspective might be useful.
Glenn has a point. Mentioning how the closure will effect transit is definitely appropriate for this blog. But getting into the weeds about what constitutes “Local Access” (which several people did, including me) is not. Unless you are suggesting that the buses exit to Mercer Island and then get back on (doing the same sort of thing that the 41 used to routinely do on the way to downtown in the evening) then it really isn’t worth mentioning. This is a transit blog, not a “driving will be bad” blog.
I may remove some of it, but that does get tedious.
Fair enough Ross. As a past moderater on ND I would often point out when someone was aggrieved their post was removed that all posts die. None of this is Shakespeare.
I think the more important point about what Eastside Nextdoor’s call the “WSDOT debacle” is it brings out the political opponents of many of the “anti-car” constituencies if they impact car mobility.
If a certain group can change WSDOT policy about something as critical as I-90 access in 12 hours that is a powerful group. They mostly remain silent about transportation and transit because it means little to them, unless it does. These citizens sleep with their elected representatives. PTA, sports, everything to do with kids and schools. What my kids called the mom mafia.
You can delete whatever you want from this tiny blog, but the point is transit shouldn’t pick fights with groups that dwarf it politically. Better to partner with those groups.
Everything from the Presidency to the both houses of Congress depend on this constituency, one this blog totally misunderstands.
The problem is that there are hundreds of places that post stuff about driving access. If you are a transit user, it gets to be very difficult to find discussion dedicated to transit issues. Even when attempts on those forums are made to create a discussion about transit, they almost always devolve into “what about…”.
Now, about my comment about the express lanes: I’m not suggesting that I-5 be closed. The express lanes CURRENTLY are closed because it’s the weekend, and there is the usual mess just north of where the HOV lane ends and turns into a closed express lane.
As best as I can tell, some of the express lanes lead from 520 to I-5 and thus into downtown Seattle. Currently, 520 is a mess going westbound.
Thus, it seems to me that it would be a good idea to take this freeway capacity (which is currently not being used right now for any purpose because it is closed) and use it for something on the weekends during the current I-90 mess.
Daniel himself has said that there isn’t anyone going to downtown Seattle any more. If that is the case, then the need for an entire 4 extra lanes of peak commuter capacity (which is what is installed on the bottom deck of the I-5 ship canal bridge) is unnecessary.
Maybe I’m wrong and there isn’t anything better to do with huge amounts of freeway capacity but to close it off on weekends, even on weekends when there is a complete traffic disaster on every other inch of Seattle area freeway. To me, it sure seems like something could be done with it to better utilize those lanes of freeway than the current 1960s era concept of “everyone works in Seattle so we need 4 extra lanes going there, but only in the morning”.
My suggestion is to extend the HOV lanes, and make them non-direction switching. That does mean altering the way signals are done at the entrance ramps, new barriers, etc. On weekends like this? It sure seems like the buses and carpools could have made good use of an extended HOV lane.
“You can delete whatever you want from this tiny blog, but the point is transit shouldn’t pick fights with groups that dwarf it politically.”
This arrogant attitude is not needed about how superior supposedly NextDoor is even though many would argue it really isnt, quanity doesn’t equal quality and in my opinion NextDoor is not really a place for quality postings.
I’d also point as what been said in the past, many politicans or breaucrats in Seattle or from one of the many agencies in the region do ocassionally read the blog even if they don’t always make comments on here due to ethics or conflict of interest reasons. So calling this a tiny blog to put it down is just not really necessary.
There isn’t any fight to be picked.
The name of this website is “Seattle Transit Blog”. People who want to be on NextDoor are on NextDoor.
These are two different purposes.
It would be interesting to know what the Seattle area NextDoor thinks should be done with the express lanes though. The map is still showing westbound 520 congested as it merges into I-5. It sure seems like a lot of unused potential.
To summarize the transit-related part above: westbound I-90, from Friday evening until Saturday afternoon, was squeezed to one lane from Bellevue to Island Crest Way, then diverted to Mercer Island streets to the West Mercer freeway entrance. Buses got stuck in traffic, turning a 30-45 minute 550 trip into a 75-120 minute trip or longer.
Saturday afternoon WSDOT closed the westbound entrances completely, and the traffic eventually vanished. Now through Sunday, westbound buses are following the old car detour, and the police open the West Mercer Way barrier to allow buses but not cars to continue to Seattle. The displays just before Mercer Island say “No Seattle access”.
Eastbound buses and cars are traveling as normal.
Glenn, it wouldn’t at this time. However, WSDOT is planning to do so very soon by building a reversible ramp from the reversible lanes to the center of the to-be-rebuilt bridge across Portage Bay. Grant, it will only work in one direction at a time, but since Link is providing the transit spine in the I-5 corridor to the north, it doesn’t make sense to make the reversible lanes two way for transit now.
Had Link not been built, it might have.
Yeah, as I understand it, the plan is to run HOV lanes from 520 to downtown Seattle via the express lanes (https://wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/search-projects/sr-520-i-5-express-lanes-connection-project). Since the express lanes are reversible, and the ramps only connect to the south, it looks like an outdated project. At best you will see a handful of peak buses (from, say, Redmond to South Lake Union). It makes way more sense to send 520 buses to the UW (a major destination) and then expect people to transfer to get downtown. I suppose there is value for van pools, but in that case, having the ramps be bidirectional would make sense. That would help with trips like Shoreline to Redmond. The idea that lots of buses and vanpools will head towards downtown from 520 in the morning ignores the increasing role that Link will play that direction.
One thing worth mentioning, Glenn: The express lanes are typically open on weekends — it turns out they are closed for this very project. You can see the regular schedule here: https://wsdot.wa.gov/travel/roads-bridges/express-lanes.
Among many examples: the buses on 520 would be able to get to the link station a lot easier if 520 weren’t such a mess. 520 might be less of a mess if an all-day HOV lane ran from 520 to I-5 south.
Currently, Amtrak’s afternoon bus takes an hour and a half -to 2 hours to get from Everett to King Street Station. Sounder does it in half to 1/3 of that, but doesn’t operate southbound in the afternoon. Considering the length of the traffic mess (it regularly goes far north of Northgate), I really don’t see anyone wanting to wait until Everett Link is done for a solution for the mess on I-5, both auto traffic and buses of all types stuck in the HOV lane.
Detail on the northeast end of the connector (e.g. the SR520 interchange). There will be one of those swinging gates which allows westbound traffic into the connector in the morning and then, during the switchover, will reverse to let eastbound traffic out of the connector into the HOV lane. My understanding is that the HOV lanes will end at the y-connector, so in the afternoon westbound HOV’s will have to merge into the leftmost general traffic lane just as southbound does at Northgate and northbound does at James.
Among many examples: the buses on 520 would be able to get to the link station a lot easier if 520 weren’t such a mess. 520 might be less of a mess if an all-day HOV lane ran from 520 to I-5 south.
The inability to easily and consistently connect the UW to the east (via 520) is caused by the poor ramps. Fixing this is a separate part of the project (https://wsdot.wa.gov/construction-planning/search-projects/sr-520-montlake-project). If you look at some of the Maps and Drawings, you can see that there will be HOV lanes directly to and from the Montlake Bridge. What happens on 520 west of the Montlake bridge is largely irrelevant. You could have backups caused by HOV vehicles merging into general purpose lanes (as they head towards I-5). But the ramps to the express lanes (which only face southbound) are of little help. They only avoid the merge if the vehicles are heading south on I-5, and only for part of the day (when the express lanes are heading their way). I would extend the HOV lanes a ways past the ramp exit point, but not all the way to I-5, and I certainly wouldn’t spend money on ramps to the express lanes.
Currently, Amtrak’s afternoon bus takes an hour and a half -to 2 hours to get from Everett to King Street Station. Considering the length of the traffic mess (it regularly goes far north of Northgate), I really don’t see anyone wanting to wait until Everett Link is done for a solution for the mess on I-5, both auto traffic and buses of all types stuck in the HOV lane.
Those buses aren’t in the HOV lanes. At least not south of Northgate (where you correctly noted the traffic usually gets really bad). They are in general purpose traffic, because once the express lanes start, the HOV lanes are only in the express lanes, which are going the other way. Thus southbound HOV vehicles routinely go the speed limit southbound from Everett until around Northgate, at which point they slow to a crawl. I have done a lot of midweek hiking, and even when driving solo, rarely encounter much traffic until Northgate. There just isn’t much of a reverse-commute outside of Seattle.
Which is why it makes sense to terminate the buses at Northgate now, and Lynnwood when it is done. That will largely solve that problem. It won’t be perfect, but it will enable faster speeds through the city. As it is, I wouldn’t bother with all-day express bus service. Neither ST nor Community Transit does. They don’t run any reverse direction express bus service to downtown. Just terminate at a Link station, and it is fast enough. Changing the express lanes to provide all-day HOV service would be largely redundant.
If anything, I would convert the express lanes to a giant bike pathway. This is a radical idea, but it would transform biking in the region. None of this is likely to happen. We’ll probably just muddle along with the express lanes until they become too costly to maintain, and then whine about how they are too costly to maintain, as is the case with most of our overbuilt automobile-based infrastructure.
There are two different improvements underway; Ross covers the details well, but I found this ppt helpful: https://wsdot.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2022-08/SR520-I5-ProjectAugustPublicMeeting-PPT.pdf
1. The 520 LID, which will dramatically improve transit moving between SR520 and the UW. This is an all day improvement and should be the focus of bus-Link connections.
2. The I5 ramps; this should greatly improve transit (& HOV) from SR520 to I5, but only in certain directions at certain times. Here, I think a connection to Link is mostly irrelevant; this is a good opportunity for Eastside buses to access SLU & northern downtown. Buses will be able to exit at Mercer (see slide 5), where they can first serve SLU and then head to Westlake (or to LQA & onwards?). This should be a compelling express route, allowing a rider to avoid a double transfer (to Link and then to a bus/streetcar/monorail) if traveling between the Eastside and SLU(/LQA). It’s still an express, so not something I’d prioritize over all day service elsewhere, but a solid use case independent of the Link spine.
RE: the I5 reversible lanes, given how much WSDOT loves the 167/405 HOT lanes as a revenue source, I’d wager that one the I5 express lanes cease to be an relevant part of the regional transit infrastructure (b/c no buses will run south of Northgate, as Ross says) they will be open to all but charged a variable congestion toll. Could be a reasonable way to fund maintenance as I5 limps along for a few more decades?
Don’t you mean “west”? [Yes, I did. Thanks. Corrected.]
Other than that, it’s a good analysis of the situation. I like AJ’s suggestion for congestion tolling them at least north of Roanoke. Transit doesn’t need them now. Maybe let HOV’s go free.
Whether it’s “outdated” or not WSDOT is going to build the connector. It might be very popular with folks from the financial district to Red-Kirk who could use the Cherry Street entrance.
Right – a Mercer street entrance mildly interesting for eastside buses because SLU isn’t well served by Link, but the Cherry street entrance would duplicate Link service for most eastside-Seattle trips and pretty much all northside-Seattle trips. Since the asset exists, might as well monetize it for a small number of people willing to pay a premium, to invest that revenue elsewhere, until it becomes prohibitively expensive to maintain.
I wouldn’t even bother with an HOV exemption – with a fixed toll, HOVs already get a per person discount, and then there is no need to invest in surveillance, simply toll every private vehicle.
So basically the only solution is to try to get WashDOT Amtrak Cascades, Belair and Quickshuttle to terminate their buses at Lynnwood, once that opens?
“If anything, I would convert the express lanes to a giant bike pathway. This is a radical idea, but it would transform biking in the region. None of this is likely to happen.”
I used to think that until I attended a mass Cascade ride where, for about one hour on a Sunday morning, the I-5 express lanes actually *was* a giant bike pathway – at least between downtown and the U district. Crossing the ship canal, it was great, but further south, the traffic on the regular lanes got oppressively loud, amplified by all those concrete walls. By the time I finally made it to the 5th and Columbia exit, it was getting painful, and to do such a commute on a regular basis would almost certainly damage my hearing. When Cascade offered the same ride again the following year, I protected my ears and declined.
Asdf2, try the East Link station on Mercer Island. It is narrow, 35’ below grade in a canyon of concrete walls with four lanes of I-90 traffic on each side and the station houses reverberating the traffic noise back toward the station platform.
Unlike the new 520 bridge I-90 on MI is not scheduled to get the new quieter concrete until 2035. The station needed a noise variance from federal limits. I would bring some kind of ear protection when/if the station opens.
Glenn, terminating long-haul buses at Lynnwood that are coming from/heading to the north is not a bad idea. The transit center is huge and there must be space for them, even with any ticketing infrastructure they have, and it has great access to I-5. Anyone coming from or going to Vancouver will go within a few hundred feet of Lynnwood TC anyways, and they might as well get to take advantage of the traffic-avoiding nature of Link.
The only problem is if someone is actually changing long-haul buses and would normally do that at King Street, but it might still be better to have the transfer just to know you’re out of traffic to make the next connection.
We’ll have to see what the decibel level is, but I’d it’s like Mountlake Terrace freeway station (which, it sounds it, it would be), that would definitely deter me from getting on or off there. This is something that Sound Transit should have thought of when they designed the place.
So basically the only solution is to try to get WashDOT Amtrak Cascades, Belair and Quickshuttle to terminate their buses at Lynnwood, once that opens?
If I was running a city-to-city bus agency (like Greyhound) I would definitely stop at Lynnwood on the way. That doesn’t mean I would necessarily end the trip there. This would benefit those that live at the north end of Seattle. If you are headed downtown, you are much better off staying on the bus most of the time. It is really only in the evening where it is a problem.
Of course Amtrak should run trains through the city.
Montlake Lid is elevated so it should be more like the Eastgate freeway station?
Oh, disregard that comment, misread the thread.
Glenn, well, it won’t work for Amtrak because their buses are co-ordinated with their trains at King Street. Plus, their riders usually have luggage and that’s a pain to schlep across Fourth Avenue.
But the others you named? Sure, why not? While their riders may have more transportables on average than most CT riders, coming as they are from far away, they are likely to be headed for a wide variety of destinations in the region served by Link. As Ross suggested, Amtrak and Greyhound should stop at LTC but then continue to their current terminals.
AJ, the connector is to be for HOV’s in general, not just buses. From Columbia Tower to Rose Hill via the Cherry Street ramp, the connector and the HOV lanes will be so quick and reliable that Red-Kirk MOTU’s will be hiring chauffeurs in order legally to be HOV’s in order to use it.
Everything old is new again!
The I5 ramps; this should greatly improve transit (& HOV) from SR520 to I5, but only in certain directions at certain times. Buses will be able to exit at Mercer (see slide 5), where they can first serve SLU and then head to Westlake (or to LQA & onwards?). This should be a compelling express route, allowing a rider to avoid a double transfer (to Link and then to a bus/streetcar/monorail) if traveling between the Eastside and SLU(/LQA). It’s still an express, so not something I’d prioritize over all day service elsewhere, but a solid use case independent of the Link spine.
There are other examples I can think of — for example, after a hockey (or hopefully basketball) game at the Seattle Center. But even if you add up all these cases, it is still a very niche market. It isn’t worth the money. Very few buses will go there, and even then, I wonder if those buses make sense. Like you wrote, you can’t prioritize them over all day service, which is another way of saying that unless we get a really big bucket of money and can afford a lot more bus service everywhere, it doesn’t make sense (even after we pay for the ramps, which aren’t cheap).
We can also think of express service the other way that would be nice. What about north Aurora to downtown Kirkland. More specifically, imagine someone from Greenwood heading to Google. Run a bus down Aurora, then turn on 80th and work your way over to express lanes and then onto the HOV ramps all the way to the East Side. This would save a huge amount of time compared to the alternative. We can all think of dozens of similar examples.
Except these ramps won’t even help with that trip. These ramps are outdated, in that they assume that the only challenging trip involving the 520 corridor is a trip going south (towards downtown) peak direction. That simply isn’t the case. It is just a bad value, for the number of people it will potentially serve.
We need to stop worrying about highly specialized trips — especially when there are pretty good alternatives involving Link. Of course if we can take advantage of existing infrastructure, then vanpools or company buses are fine, and should be encouraged. But otherwise, we shouldn’t be spending big (service or infrastructure) money for trips that largely mimic Link. Not unless we have a lot more money to spend on transit.
The gap in single-family housing: Starter houses. “The nation has a deepening shortage of housing. But, more specifically, there isn’t enough of this housing: small, no-frills homes that would give a family new to the country or a young couple with student debt a foothold to build equity.
The affordable end of the market has been squeezed from every side. Land costs have risen steeply in booming parts of the country. Construction materials and government fees have become more expensive. And communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be. Some ban vinyl siding. Others require two-car garages. Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today.”
“Nationwide, the small detached house has all but vanished from new construction. Only about 8 percent of new single-family homes today are 1,400 square feet or less. In the 1940s, according to CoreLogic, nearly 70 percent of new houses were that small.”
“But the economics of the housing market — and the local rules that shape it — have dictated today that many small homes are replaced by McMansions, or that their moderate-income residents are replaced by wealthier ones.”
“For a long time, that suburban model worked, although only for white families at first. But the economics and the politics shifted as the land within a reasonable driving distance of downtown filled in. Land grew more expensive. But communities didn’t respond by allowing housing on smaller pieces of it. They broadly did the opposite, ratcheting up rules that ensured builders couldn’t construct smaller, more affordable homes. They required pricier materials and minimum home sizes. They wanted architectural flourishes, not flat facades.”
“The simplest way to put entry-level housing on increasingly expensive land is to build a lot of it — to put two, three, four or more units on lots that for decades have been reserved for one home. The outcome would look more like housing built a century ago, with more duplexes, more rowhouses, more homeowners adding their own rental units.”
I think flipping homes didn’t help keep costs down either. Now you have to compete for a home with someone who must have cash and never intends to live in it. That might be in the article but it wouldn’t let me read it.
Might have cash. Sorry.
They go together. People hoard things that have a limited supply. It doesn’t make sense to flip houses if there is a constant stream of new houses on the market. To be fair, many flippers improve the house, which provides a service that a lot of people are willing to pay for. A lot of people don’t want to buy a house, rent, and then deal with a remodel. They want to move into a house that has already been refurbished (and thus “flipped”).
I agree that many flippers improve the house, which provides a service that many people are willing to pay for. But by the time those homes are sold they are no longer in the price range of a starter home. In my neighborhood flipped older houses are around 800k to 1.1 million. They are beautiful. Just not starter home prices. When they were bought for cash at 350 to 500k 4 years ago, they were starter homes. Or closer to that.
Yeah, but my point is that flipping is a symptom, not the disease. Flipping only makes sense if you are adding significant value, or the market is rising. The market is rising in Seattle because they don’t allow enough homes to be built. With or without flippers, those houses would be expensive to buy in your neighborhood (and just about every neighborhood in Seattle now). At worst the flippers simply prevented people back then from doing what people now can’t do — buy a reasonably priced house.
Flipping is just gentrification. The property has become too valuable for the structure based on comps. The flipper is betting the resale price will exceed labor and materials costs, loan costs, property taxes and incidentals like utilities.
The increase in mortgage rates to above 6% — likely to go higher — has changed all property investment, as has the decline in the stock market. The U.S. is just much poorer today than it was a year ago. Housing starts in the U.S. have ground to a halt because the cost of money is too high for the builder and buyers can’t afford the mortgage rates. Sales have declined significantly, which means a decline in sales prices soon. The time to buy a house has passed, when mortgage rates were under 3%.
It just goes to prove that housing supply is only one factor among many when it comes to housing prices. The cost of money and the cost of construction (Inslee in Feb. 2021 signed into law the international building code plus some green building codes that have increased the cost of construction) determine what buyers can afford which determines whether builders will build. Right now builders are not building, and that will continue as long as their borrowing costs and mortgage rates remain high. Despite this lack of new construction housing sales prices will decline across the U.S.
“many flippers improve the house, which provides a service that many people are willing to pay for.”
In a vacuum, yes. But each flipped house subtracts a low-end house, at a time they’re rapidly disappearing and many people who want one to live in can’t get one.
Builders don’t want to build small SFH. The market for a small SFH is limited (especially post pandemic), the cost per sf high, and the profit margin smaller than a larger SFH.
Instead what the master builders assoc. really wants is smaller minimum lot sizes in expensive suburban neighborhoods but with much higher house to lot area ratios so the house is the same size as a larger lot.
That means smaller (or no) yard setbacks, greater impervious surface limits, less vegetation, and taller height limits because few builders build basements anymore which in the past allowed greater living space without greater house to lot area ratios. Not surprisingly these regulatory limits are what SFH neighborhoods covet, and the wealthier the SFH community the more political clout they have.
If increasing the number of lots to create more affordable housing is the goal — despite the fact new zoning needs new construction to implement the new zoning which means gentrification and higher costs per sf — the last place you want to upzone is expensive urban and suburban lots, because as ARCH will tell you affordable housing begins with affordable land.
That ideally means vacant land. SFH’s, even new construction, are cheaper in areas like SE King Co. because the land was vacant before being developed and not near urban density.
The better approach is to open up more vacant land under the GMA for new housing, which is how affordable housing was created before the GMA. This is the approach Snohomish Co. favors. It allows builders to build the housing people want (SFH) on affordable (vacant) land without having to redevelop expensive urban and suburban properties.
With WFH and Link this is the better approach to create affordable SFH’s, although there is always going to be a base cost per sf for new construction, even if the land is free.
Only 3% of the U..S.land is municipal or used for housing. There is tons of land in the three county area that is not environmentally sensitive — much is just farmland —— that could be opened up for new SFH construction that would not take decades to implement like upzoning expensive urban and suburban parcels. This is how rapidly growing cities like Phoenix are meeting their housing needs.
Exactly Mike. Builders want to buy low and sell high. The reasonS the region’s average median housing prices keep rising so fast is because new construction is the least affordable per sf, AND because it usually replaces an older, more affordable housing unit. What you really need is more vacant land for housing if affordability is the goal.
“Flipping is just gentrification.”
Gentrification is a complex term with multiple meanings, and is most useful in terms of neighborhoods. The most useful definition I’ve heard is when somebody like an artist moves in and renovates a run-down house, so it increases in value but the unimproved houses in the neighborhood remain the same price. That’s not what’s happening here. There’s a general price increase across the entire region, in Seattle and Kent and Tacoma and Black Diamond. That’s not gentrification. When that’s happening, the home improvements and house-flipping are following it, not leading it.
As if food were not a necessity. That farmland allows people to eat local food, which hasn’t degraded from being shipped a long distance, or is limited to shippable varieties picked before they’re ripe. Local farms also helps mitigate having total dependency on outsiders, high energy inputs, and other countries’ governments that may not always be cooperative.
Builders don’t want to build small SFH. The market for a small SFH is limited (especially post pandemic), the cost per sf high, and the profit margin smaller than a larger SFH.
What nonsense. I gave you clear cut examples of why that isn’t the case. It clearly showed that developers made more by building townhouses than by building large, single family homes. It is like I explain very clearly why 2 + 2 is 4, but you completely ignore the math, and claim it is 5.
Look, if what you were saying was true, you wouldn’t need restrictive zoning laws anywhere in Seattle. If developers think the only way to make money is by building single family homes, then they wouldn’t restrict lots sizes, or ban apartments. Come on man, give the NIMBY’s some credit. The reason they don’t want to see the zoning changes is that they fear that developers will actually build what developers want to build, and people want to buy — more dense housing.
Daniel, there is no such thing as “just farmland” in a world of eight billion people. Now there is abandoned farmland, and that’s fine for development. But if it’s growing food of any kind it is needed to feed us. Hands off the Snoqualmie Valley.
Tom, most of King Co. was originally farmland or timber land. Over time governments decided other uses were necessary, such as industrial, airports, roads, manufacturing, commercial, multi-family and SFH. At the same time most property was platted and given or sold to private citizens. Seattle was created by plowing a hill into Puget Sound. .
Most of our “local” food comes from eastern Washington because of the weather and scale of farms to be profitable. The U.S. is not at risk of running out of farmland, although better water use will be necessary in some areas. The big issues for farmers today are the cost of fuel and fertilizer.
If more housing is a priority, the majority want a SFH, new construction is the least affordable per sf, but you still want that new housing to be semi—affordable then cheap land is the key, and that usually means vacant land, at least in the past. . Let the market work is what I hear on this blog.
Dividing a lot in Laurelhurst in two and building two new structures — either with the existing regulatory limits which limit GFA per lot area no matter what kind of housing or with increased regulatory limits — the housing is not going to be remotely affordable. A 1000 sf unit would cost much more than a 4000 sf SFH on less expensive (vacant) land in a less urban area, especially with so fewer workers needing to commute to an urban area.
Ross thinks it as simple as 2+2. That is like going to a graduate class in mathematics and stating 2+2=4. Yes, that is true, but it (housing prices and development incentives) is much more complicated than that and you are in the wrong class if 2+2=4 is someone’s knowledge of mathematics.
The next few years will be very difficult for builders and developers for all property development. Housing starts will continue to decline and so will housing prices, and high mortgage rates will keep folks who want to buy in rentals. It is the price of money that determines housing and property development. With over $10 trillion wiped out of the stock market and real inflation at over 10% now is not the time to build on spec or buy.
But the idea that subdividing expensive urban and suburban lots — even if it were politically realistic — will create affordable housing is wrong, especially post pandemic where deurbanization looks more likely.
Both Tacoma and Oregon are experimenting with zoning restrictions. It will be interesting to see if either ordinance creates more housing per lot and whether that new housing is affordable. It will probably take a few decades to find out, once the cost of money comes down.
Daniel, of course that’s what happened. But there weren’t eight billion people when it happened, at least, not when most of it happened. As I said, “abandoned farmland”, which mostly is functionally too small to be profitably farmed, can be converted, unless it has springs that are important to a creek. But places that are actually raising food, be it animal or vegetable, should be off limits. Period.
I know you don’t agree. Whatever maximizes the investments of your wealthy friends is just fine. But it’s very short-sighted for someone who has children.
Geez Tom, you don’t have to get personal. Yes, I have two kids in college. No I not a shill for “wealthy developers”. Other than you most criticize me for being anti-development because I believe in the traditions method of zoning in which uses are segregated because each use in a zone gets the same regulatory limits. Unless you like true McMansions because a SFH gets the same regulatory limits as any other use in the zone.
If you have some magical way to create affordable housing in this region — and in Seattle in particular— be my guess.
Upzoning the wealthy SFH zones is unlikely to happen despite wealth envy, it won’t create affordable housing, and what you really get is gentrification, which unfortunately you get anyway.
You were the one who got all the flack on this blog for suggesting folks who can’t afford the housing move to some place they can afford. Good or bad you were correct, which is why housing in outer area of the region is increasing faster than Seattle, and population growth is increasing faster in eastern WA than western WA.
If farmers and food production are the issue there are at least a dozen policies that would help more.
Flipping homes is gentrification insofar as any investment in neighborhood quality is ‘gentrification.’ Letting a home naturally depreciate in value is pretty much the definition of naturally affordable housing. Objecting to house flipping is consistent with the ‘please don’t make my neighborhood more desirable so I can continue to afford it’ line of thinking.
In a red hot housing market, flippers are mostly capturing value as the market rises, so it’s a valid criticism to call some (but not all) flippers simply speculators with a paint can. But in a normal housing market flippers provide a valuable service; many people do not have the time, cashflow, and/or talent to do major repair & upkeep on their home. Having major work done on a house while it is vacant is very logical if a housing market has a healthy vacancy rate.
FWIW, Dan is clearly wrong, builders will happily build any housing type as long as it is profitable & scalable, and there are many examples across America that demonstrate townhomes and multiplexes as scalable building forms (or just read Ross’s many comments) … but Tom is wrong on Snoqualmie Valley – it is truly irrelevant on the global food supply; there are many great reasons to preserve the agricultural character of the valley (e.g. it’s mostly a floodplain), but global food supply is not one of them. Because of the high cost of labor in King County, any food grown locally is either primarily recreational (e.g. Remlinger Farms) or serves something niche & expensive. ‘Local’ food comes from Skagit or Yakima, not Snoqualmie.
I don’t have a magical way to create housing. And I am sorry for the implication that you’re shilling for the rich. You generally aren’t. But you ARE advocating for gobbling up land for more sprawl, because you believe that homo sapiens somehow has the right to squeeze everything else out.
Just because it’s politically “savvy” doesn’t make it right, or sustainable. Humans simply need to live closer together, and leave the world as it is except for the land that we need for agriculture. Germany does that very well and people there seem pretty happy overall. There’s a very hard line around every village, town, and city where human habitation ends like it drops off a cliff and the rest of the world begins. It’s too late to remove the drizzle of mindless growth around American towns and cities, but we shouldn’t allow it to get worse.
And of course I realize that such a level of sprawl control will never long continue in the US and lots of other places. Which is why very few people will be alive in a century. The tragedy is that we’ll take so much of the rest of life with us.
AJ, sure, the Snoqualmie Valley doesn’t produce “much” food. It’s not that big and yes, labor is a concern, certainly for row crops. But at this point any conversion of fertile, humus-rich and roughly pH neutral land that is producing food — even if it’s milk — is a mistake.
Remember that the prices of our foodstuffs — more and more of which are imported every year — include the “seignorial power” of the US dollar. If [probably “when”] that goes away the cost of eating in the US will roughly double, regardless of the intrinsic cost of producing it somewhere else.
(behind a paywall for most, but excellent & on point. Notes that land value in NYC was basically flat after adjusting for inflation through multiple population booms, up until when SF zoning was rolled out)
RE: Food – the cost of food may double, but the cost of eating won’t since the majority of the cost of a meal in the US is transportation & local labor (i.e. grocery workers). There’s a reason that when wheat prices double there’s a crisis in Africa but no one notices the change in a loaf of bread in America; a strong dollar is helpful but not particularly relevant.
AJ, those other costs will rise sharply as well. As a country we are strangling our labor supply with jihad against immigrants, and fracking is the ragged end of hydro-carbon extraction, not deliverance. We are literally eating oil and gas every day.
Martha’s isn’t dead; he’s just been in a coma.
“Malthus”, not “Martha”. Damn auto-correct!
Let’s see what Seattle does in its 2024 comp plan rewrite. Personally I would like too see more density in the UGA’s before upzoning SFH neighborhoods as that is more consistent with the PSRC’s TOD approach, although that vision was probably obsolete when the 2050 plan was adopted. The zoning already exists in the UGA’s.
The last 8 years have been perfect for property development. For the builder/develope low borrowing costs, low material costs, stable labor costs, and for the buyer historically low mortgage rates. Plus the Fed and federal government pumped $13 trillion in cash into the economy since 2020 and the stock market boomed.
All of those favorable factors have reversed. Many are predicting a recession in 2023, which unfortunately is the best way to collapse housing prices although housing starts decline, and in the last six months have collapsed. Zoning is just one factor in housing construction.
The reality is 2/3 of citizens own their housing so rising housing values are a huge boost to the economy. The other reality is it has proven very difficult to create non-subsidized housing in urban areas that are economically hot. I doubt any of the ideas would really lower regional housing costs, and some would take decades. The reality in a mature market (non vacant land) is new housing usually replaces older less expensive housing.
Personally I doubt any zoning changes in this area will lower housing costs , except perhaps a recession. Builders just prefer to build for the wealthy, ideally replacing a low value housing unit or vacant land.
any food grown locally is either primarily recreational (e.g. Remlinger Farms) or serves something niche & expensive
Local fruit is niche? What about dairy? I agree that if food prices increase substantially in the Puget Sound because of suburban sprawl it doesn’t matter much from a global standpoint. But people in the region paying extra for food matters.
Anyway, sprawl isn’t the answer. David is right that it would put some downward pressure on housing costs, but there are two problems with this approach:
1) It is far more costly per person to provide essential government services (water, sewage, electricity, etc.). I could probably summarize this argument in a paragraph or two, but I think it is better to read what Charles Marohn, Jr. wrote (https://www.strongtowns.org/). If you want to just work it through yourself, think about the cost of fire hydrants per person in a low density suburban area versus a city. Now apply it to other services.
2) It is far more expensive to provide good transit service. This is basically a variation on the previous reason, but since this is a transit blog — a fact that a few seem to forget — this is especially relevant. Transit scales (the more people per area, the more cost effective the transit).
3) It still doesn’t provide the choices that people want. There are people who want to live in Auburn — no question. But way more people want to live in Seattle.
Personally I doubt any zoning changes in this area will lower housing costs
Yes, I know, which explains your comments on this subject, as well as many others. You simply won’t listen to reason. We provide local examples (townhouses in Lake City, giant McMansions a few blocks away). We provide examples in the rest of the world (Japan, Germany, France). We point to studies (https://furmancenter.org/files/Supply_Skepticism_-_Final.pdf). Yet throughout it all, you stick to your nonsensical belief that zoning has nothing to do with housing prices. Even based on simply economics — the type a 10-year old with a lemonade stand would understand — zoning should have a big effect. Yet you don’t believe it.
You don’t provide a counter argument, other than “I don’t believe it”. You don’t provide counter examples, or counter studies. Why then, should anyone take your argument seriously?
“I doubt any of the ideas would really lower regional housing costs”
What you’re not getting is that if we don’t build more infill units on top of what would be built anyway under existing zoning, prices will rise even faster. We’re already at a crisis, we can’t get it get worse by squeezing the housing supply even further.
Mike, if there was a proposal to build a 60 story Trump-branded, gold-tinted residential condo tower on your block, would you be for or against it?
you sure got him, Sam
I am not sure why some on this blog see housing as some kind of urban/suburban morality tale.
The GMPC sets future housing targets for every city, both in its 2035 and 2050 Plans (which I feel post pandemic are inflated). For example, Mercer Island’s prior council agreed to more housing targets than legally obligated to, and still MI is one of the few cities to have met its housing targets to date. A city like Shoreline can agree to more than its legal number of housing targets because the city wants the development revenue or needs gentrification, but every city has to meet their minimum targets.
The GMPC then leaves it up to the city on how to zone for those future housing growth targets.
Eastside cities (like Seattle) tend to follow traditional zoning models in which uses are segregated, in part to better tailor regulatory limits for the zone, which is difficult if there are more than one use. For example, Ross complains about a “McMansion” in Lake City. All a McMansion is is a house with a GFA out of scale with the lot area. With a SFH only zone like on MI you don’t get McMansions because of the yard setback limits, impervious surface limits, height limits and gross floor area to lot area limits. In a multi-family zone or one that allow townhouses the regulatory limits must be greater to allow for the density to make multi-family housing or townhouses practical, but then a SFH in the same zone gets the same regulatory limits so you get McMansions. Or you segregate the zones into different uses.
Seattle basically does the same. Seattle zones for different uses — commercial, retail, industrial, multi-family housing, SFH, UGA — because different uses need different regulatory limits. It is why Capitol Hill has much smaller regulatory limits than First Hill or Belltown. If housing were the only goal Capitol Hill would have a 40 story height limit, but then that would destroy the character of the neighborhood. Same with downtown Bellevue which is denser than maybe any zone in Seattle. Even Mercer Island’s town center has greater regulatory limits than Capitol Hill, although still after ten years only a small fraction of the town center has been developed to its zoning limits. The actual housing can trail the zoning by decades, even if a very desirable and expensive multi-family area like MI.
Some on this blog portray “suburbia” like a 1950’s caricature. East King Co. has essentially the same population as west King Co., and much more retail density and vibrancy. MI for example has one of the highest numbers of residents per housing unit — 3.1 — in the county, while Seattle has one of the lowest. If you have four kids you need four bedrooms which requires a SFH. It is just eastside cities zone for different uses, in part to concentrate retail, and to protect retail from housing and commercial space, and because different uses need different regulatory limits. I think some on this blog just don’t get this concept.
The moralists on this blog are the outliers, even in Seattle. When I keep hearing words like “wealth” when talking about SFH zones or zoning it makes me think something else is at work, probably envy at the recent increase in SFH prices in the region, or steep increases in rents which has many reasons. But don’t forget: those who bought in the last 18 months are probably underwater today, by tens of thousands of dollars, and will be for several years. I bought my house in 2009 and it wasn’t until 2015 its assessed value had returned to the 2009 assessed value. It was really only after Seattle began to implode that all eastside housing exploded in value, and then the desire for a SFH during and after the pandemic. But now its value is declining again. Not because of housing stock, but because of the cost of money.
I suppose you could eliminate SFH only zones, but then you better figure out what to do about the regulatory limits in the SFH zone, and if they are increased to allow multi-family housing or more than one legal dwelling per lot don’t bitch about McMansions because you created the McMansion. You also better figure out how to serve these residential areas with transit if parking limits are relaxed, although everyone will still own a car.
I still think UGA’s are a better approach, whether Seattle or downtown Bellevue, or essential MI’s town center. Multi-family housing is more economical with large lots, there is lots of transit, you can create some kind of retail density hopefully in a mixed-use zone, and there is usually good freeway access. But as the 2300 new apartments near U Village that have rents ranging from $2000 to $6000/mo. show don’t think the new housing will be affordable, or that it will make other housing affordable. That is as naïve as induced demand and build it and they will come.
This is why a subcommittee of the GMPC is now working on mandating that a certain percentage of future housing growth targets in each city need certain AMI targets, which is the hard part. Unfortunately the subcommittee as ideological as some on this blog, and just as unsure of the incentives that drive builders.
Sure, you could force MI to allocate 600 of its 1200 housing growth targets through 2044 to 0% to 30% AMI housing, but then those will never get built because no builder can make a profit from building a shoebox on MI within 0% to 30% AMI so no permits will be filed, so in effect in the search for the holy grail — affordable housing not subsidized by governments — the subcommittee will end up reducing its own housing growth targets, which some cities like MI are fine with. Although MI does not have to change its zoning to meet its future housing growth targets through 2044 it if did it could just mandate any new housing unit must charge no more than 0% to 30% AMI rent (around $650/mo.), which effectively is no housing growth targets. Don’t blame a city like MI if no builders apply to build 0% to 30% AMI units.
So no, it isn’t 2+2 = 4. The change in the cost of money and the economy has already crushed new housing starts nationwide, despite the fact there is an inadequate amount of housing and has been since at least 2008.
Tin foil hat time.
Daniel, have you ever wondered why the comment section always uses Surrey Downs as the example of a single family neighborhood that should become multifamily, but they never mention the Montlake neighborhood? Both are next to Link stations, but the comment section focuses only on the Bellevue neighborhood, not the Seattle neighborhood.
This is just a theory, but some say the reason why some single family neighborhoods are targeted, and others aren’t, is due to how blue or red they are. Montlake couldn’t be more blue, so getting a bunch of renters in there wouldn’t make it any more blue. So, it doesn’t need to be “fixed.” They will be voting D, or probably even S, in every election. Surrey Down, on the other hand, while also blue, isn’t as blue as Montlake, so replacing single family homes with apartments and renters would make it even more blue. Again, I’m not saying I believe that theory, but it’s just what some people are saying is the ulterior motive behind wanting to eliminate single family zoning. Especially suburban single family zoning. “I am against exclusionary zoning!” Translation: I want to turn conservative suburban single family neighborhoods into liberal neighborhoods.
Not feeding the troll.
Sorry for the trolling. Here’s a real comment. For those that haven’t visited the Eastside lately, the Overlake Sears is now completely demolished, and the diagonal building next to the Bellevue TC is also completely demolished.
North of Bellevue Square, just across the street, the Avenue condo project has progressed quite a bit. Here’s a somewhat live cam view of the project. The camera is pointed southwest. Across the street to the south is Bellevue Square, and to the west is QFC, where a massive project called Pinnacle is planned.
There is an interesting editorial in today’s Seattle Times about Seattle’s Town House Reform Bill CB120394. https://www.seattle.gov/documents/Departments/OPCD/OngoingInitiatives/HousingChoices/OPCDTownhouseReformSummaryOfProposal.pdf
This bill increases density per lot from one home per 1300 sf to one home per 1150 sf in neighborhoods with town house zoning. However the editorial points out the increase in housing comes at the expense of eliminating any requirements for trees or vegetation. According to the editorial this contradicts the intent of Seattle’s new tree ordinance, exacerbates some of Seattle’s hottest neighborhoods that will primarily affect BIPOC and low income communities, and is bad for global warming. The editorial refers to “the blocks of treeless town house developments in Ballard and Fremont [that] demonstrate that even our current town house codes are creating new heat islands”.
The article further notes that Seattle’s new tree ordinance that promises to restore Seattle’s tree canopy to 30% is subordinate to achieving maximum housing per lot.
The authors instead suggest requiring at least one statement tree per lot, and to allow “vertical stacking” of row houses and town house dwellings, one on top of another. This may require an amendment to height limits in the zone, but vertical housing is less challenging for seniors and those with physical disabilities compared to tall narrow town homes or row houses but begins to mimic multi-family housing.
I think this is a good example of how segregating uses by different zones allows planners to better tailor regulatory limits for that zone, even if the result is disappointing — a neighborhood devoid of trees. If a town home zone also allows SFH then those SFH get the same regulatory limits, which could eliminate tree retention on SFH lots and allow McMansions, and would face objections from SFH owners who value the vegetation and trees in their neighborhoods.
I also think this proposed ordinance is exactly why SFH zones object to any other use in SFH zones, because those other uses metastasize and begin to eliminate the regulatory limits that create the character of a SFH zone: yard setbacks, fewer cars parked on the street, height limits, less GFA per lot area, more pervious surfaces, cooler temperatures. Better to consolidate and mass uses like row houses and town homes in the “blocks of treeless town house developments in Ballard and Fremont”.
I think new full-lot redevelopment should only be required to plant or maintain/replace trees if they are allowed the option of permanently replacing a curbside parking space with a parklet (which would also serve as a quasi-chicane) in which the developer may plant and pay the city to maintain a tree or two.
The other comment in that editorial (here: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/seattles-town-house-residents-deserve-trees-too/), that the townhouse update should allow for stacking of housing, is another much-needed zoning amendment, but call it what it is: a duplex, triplex, quadplex, etc.; the likes of which should be allowed by-right in all SFH.
Seattle’s 2024 comprehensive plan and subsequent zoning updates should allow and encourage multi-unit stacked condos up to 6 units on each SFH lot.
Per the previous discussion of the loss of “starter” homes, the city should be strongly supporting the development of ~1,000 sqft 2-bed condos in stacked orientations lot-line to lot-line on all current SFH zones. That was plenty of space in which to raise a small family in the early to mid-20th century, and it’s plenty to raise a family in today.
I thought the definition of a townhouse was 2+ stories with no other unit above or below it. “Stacked townhouses” sounds like a condo building.
I’ve lived in two townhouse-style apartments. One was a traditional row of 2-story units. The other was a weird 1905-era three-story building, with four 2-story apartments on the top two floors, and a bottom floor with a 1-story apartment and a maintenance room. We called our unit “The Townhouse”.
Mike, you are correct. “Stacked housing” is simply multi-family housing with a fancy faux name to make it sound more like it is consistent with the zone for town houses, which usually is a subzone or subarea of a residential zone between SFH and multi-family zones.
This is not part of the zoning ordinance but a suggestion in the editorial, apparently to allow single tree on each lot. I disagree with allowing “stacked housing” in a town house zone unless it is rezoned multi-family with input from the community, but do believe row or town houses should have some tree requirements. Parts of Seattle are becoming ecological wastelands devoid of any vegetation.
It also neglects the space necessary for elevators which are required with stacked housing, and common ownership of the property which means HOA fees. The point of a town or row house is it is just a small fee simple house on its own lot that is below the minimum lot size for a SFH zone, usually with greater GFAR than a SFH zone but less than a multi-family zone.
Or we could get intellectually honest about housing and zoning and go big.
Nathan’s idea to upzone SFH to 6 stories with no yard setbacks is just more NIMBYism, like limiting heights and scale in Ballard or Capitol Hill. Now personally I agree with the zones for both areas because each has a retail and housing character that is very hard to create — almost despite their zoning — but very easy to destroy.
Cam wasn’t being a troll when he asked why not allow a 40 story Donald Trump steel and glass style housing complex in Ballard or Capitol Hill, because if housing is the holy grail and the character of a SFH zone must be eliminated then let’s upzone all areas to their maximum. After all, what is the differenced between First Hill and Belltown and Ballard and Capitol Hill, that would explain the zoning discrepancies?
The opposition to taller buildings by some on this blog is because they like the character of a mixed use middle housing zone, which can be nice if the retail is there (like U Village). But that again is just more NIMBYism by some who prefer a certain scale and regulatory limits, although it restricts housing units.
The GMPC sets housing targets for different cities. The citizens of those cities can then determine how to zone for that housing. Eastside cities like MI believe multi-family housing is best when condensed in its own zone near transit and shops that allow more walking, although as I have pointed out before it is critical for planners to understand a mixed use zone has different profit levels for developers.
When it comes to AFFORDABLE housing state and county governments would love for cities to zone to create affordable housing without any public assistance, but it isn’t possible. Hence the upcoming levy in Seattle to fund publicly subsidized housing, and the very contentious proposal to — naturally — site King Co.’s new huge homeless complex in the CID with county funds. https://www.shorenewsnetwork.com/2022/09/28/enraged-residents-of-seattles-chinatown-clash-with-council-members-over-homeless-megaplex/
Although some on this blog get very personal and emotional about this issue all we are really talking about is where to locate a city’s GMPC housing growth targets, although whenever a SFH zone is involved it engenders class warfare on this blog. Some cities like to segregate out multi-family housing to allow larger lots for more economical development for smaller units and more affordable housing set asides with bigger streets for better traffic access with the hope some take transit, some on this blog want to disperse this housing throughout the residential neighborhoods in the county despite their tight regulatory zoning, relatively small lots, lack of walkable retail, and lack of transit, which is exactly why Seattle (and I) favor UGA’s. But in any case whether it is one of the 2300 new multi-family units near U Village, or a row of treeless row houses in Ballard, it won’t be “affordable”, especially if new, although housing and rental rates are creeping down with the higher cost of money today. But don’t forget all those county and Seattle levies are property based and pass right through to rent rates.
I was looking for houses on Zillow in my old neighborhood of Eastgate today, and speaking of whatever happened to starter homes, here’s a good contrast of what used to be built, and what’s being build today. The below link should show a picture of a newly built house that’s selling for $3.1M, and is 4784 sqft. It should be pic 37 of 39. Across the street, you’ll see a couple of small houses that are the original homes that were built in around 1954. I checked, and one of those houses is 2110 sqft. I know there are a lot of reasons why starter homes are no longer affordable, and I don’t want to talk about all the reasons, but one reason, in that very long list of reasons, is houses are much bigger today, and, in my opinion, unnecessarily so.
The average house size in the 1950s was 1000 square feet. Over the following decades it crept up to 1500, 2000, and 2500+.
The house I grew up in in east Bellevue was 2300 square feet and built in 1965. Part of that was the basement; it would have been 1350 without it. We moved from San Jose in 1972, where houses didn’t have basements. My parents were surprised at the basements, and atributed them to people being indoors more here because of the weather, and also how houses are often built on a hillside so the basement is only visible on one side.
I know there are a lot of reasons why starter homes are no longer affordable, and I don’t want to talk about all the reasons, but one reason, in that very long list of reasons, is houses are much bigger today, and, in my opinion, unnecessarily so.
Yes, and this is exactly what the article is about. Back in the day, land was cheap, but building houses was not. In that case, building a small house on a big lot is a good way to build an affordable house. Now things have reversed. Land is expensive, and construction is cheap. Obviously it still costs more to build a big house than a small house, but not that much more. Just to have a single family house — any house — costs a lot. There is very little market for a small house on such and expensive lot. Instead, people build big houses (including tear-downs, which are common throughout Seattle). That is why I think trying to preserve the “Seattle bungalow” (as the Seattle Times editorial board puts it) is futile. Those tiny houses will be replaced by big houses or higher density houses (take your pick).
But if you build row houses or town houses (or whatever you want to call them) you can build a far more affordable house. People end up with a lot less land (sometimes less than 1,000 square feet) and a smaller house, but one that people can afford. Unfortunately, in most of Seattle (and most parts of the country) these are illegal, which pushes up the cost dramatically.
I thought the definition of a townhouse was 2+ stories with no other unit above or below it. “Stacked townhouses” sounds like a condo building.
I think it is common for townhouses (or rowhouses) to start out as single family buildings, then transform into apartments. Or developers build a bunch of buildings that look similar on the outside, but are a mix of apartments/condos and buildings designed for one family. The terminology gets tricky. If you say you live in a row house, many will assume you own the whole thing, while others will assume you have an apartment.
“Nathan’s idea to upzone SFH to 6 stories with no yard setbacks is just more NIMBYism, like limiting heights and scale in Ballard or Capitol Hill.”
Does this kind of intellectual dishonesty pass muster in your profession? It certainly doesn’t pass in mine.
A few more points:
– The “stacked townhouses” idea is simply a way get around classist thought against multifamily buildings. It’s not any more ‘intellectually dishonest’ than any other attempts at rebranding. If suburbanites are accepting of the housing density inherent in townhomes, then they ought to be similarly accepting the same number and size of homes ‘stacked’ vertically rather than horizontally.
– Anyone who took Sam’s 60-story tower hypothetical seriously, or the lack of response to it as any indication of ideological dissonance, is a serious moron.
– I did not propose turning every current-SFH zone into Mid-rise, because I understand that such radical proposal would spin the lead-addled brains of the few, toxic, actual NIMBYs here. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that misunderstood the comment, but I am surprised that he engaged in a tactic I experience commonly in leftist politics, which is that since my proposal wasn’t totally radical, it’s still problematic. Welcome, comrade, to purity politics; I expect unabashed support for Kshama Sawant’s protest votes in all future SCC activities!
“I did not propose turning every current-SFH zone into Mid-rise”
The Not Just Bikes/Strong Towns discussion, the Jarrett Walker/Jeff Speck discussion, and recent RMTransit videos have said some amazingly insightful things recently. One is that American cities are stuck in a dichotomoy between car-dependent low density and midrise high density, as if those are the only choices. So reasonable skeptics fight multifamily housing because they imagine it will all be large breadboxes or 40-story towers. But in the Netherlands, the new urban neighborhoods they’re building are all the “missing middle” level in between. No one-story car-dependent buildings, but also no 15-story or 40-story towers, and maybe not even the 8-story breadboxes we have. Instead it’s all in between, a moderate urban neighborhood like much of Capitol Hill. And there are single-family houses here and there, sometimes several together. Probably old houses. But the point is, you have a choice between single-family detached, rowhouse, small multifamily, medium multifamily, various retail and commercial, all within walking distance of each other and a frequent transit stop.
One of them said, other countries don’t even have a word for “transit-oriented development”. It’s just “development”, or “normal development”. Anything else would be “abnormal development”. Because of course it should be designed for pedestrians.
RMTransit also had a superb video about transit in Switzerland. I don’t remember everything, but rail is comprehensive, to both large and small towns, running at least every half hour, across the entire country. He said Zurich is a small city which has an extensive rail network that’s surprisingly vast even for Europe, making it easy to get from anywhere to anywhere at anytime.
And he mentions how he grew up in Fake London (Ontario, Canada), where transit was as bad as parts of South King County, and often no safe way to walk to the bus stop, or from a hotel to a nearby shopping center. It and many similar-sized cities say their population is too low for a tram. I pointed to one or two cities in Germany that have trams with downtown tunnela, with population 200K and below. He found 64 German cities the size of Fake London or smaller that nevertheless have trams.
He also says the most important thing with transit is frequency. (After having a route at all and having it safe, for Daniel.) Buses and subways in cities and suburbs need to run at least every 15 minutes, preferably 5 or 10 in cities. Because that’s the way to make it the most useful and generate the most riders. So cities should forego making train platforms longer to accommodate more people, and instead make them run more frequently.
We shouldn’t need to “prove you deserve decent transit”, as Ross seems to suggest.
Particularly in American cities where the car dominates, you need to provide great transit, and let it take hold. You need to allow people to develop transit use patterns, and develop trust that it will get you where you need to go. Quickly. And every time.
Then the use it. And they convince their friends and colleagues to use it.
And then, building patterns adjust over time to take into account transit use. But only if we let the free market take hold by eliminating the exclusionary zoning that dominates the majority of our cities.
Unfortunately, Cal, it’s even longer term than that.
A German transit advocate told me that the older generation there still thinks of transit as slow and difficult to use, despite 40 years worth of effort into making things better. The younger generation are the ones making much better use of transit. As they get older and the next generation comes of age, the whole era in which the country was as bad as the USA is being forgotten.
So, even with really good improvements, old habits won’t change much.
“The simplest way to put entry-level housing on increasingly expensive land is to build a lot of it — to put two, three, four or more units on lots that for decades have been reserved for one home. The outcome would look more like housing built a century ago, with more duplexes, more rowhouses, more homeowners adding their own rental units.”
Yes. Doing so would also improve density, which in turn would improve transit. This is not a matter of personal consumer choice, it is a matter of overly restrictive and outdated rules preventing builders from providing housing that people want to buy.
There are examples, not too far from where I live. This is a standalone townhouse: https://www.redfin.com/WA/Seattle/12000-31st-Ave-NE-98125/home/179570907. According to the county, it has a lot size of 595 feet (https://blue.kingcounty.com/Assessor/eRealProperty/Dashboard.aspx?ParcelNbr=8822901045). By no means is this cheap; because the demand for housing is so high, it sold for $730,000. The developer bought up the land, then subdivided it into tiny lots and built townhouses on them. From what I can tell, they created 15 homes on an 11,000 square foot lot. This is legal here, but illegal in most of the city, which explains why these homes were so expensive.
Now consider a different subdivision. This is a house built a couple years ago: https://www.redfin.com/WA/Seattle/12049-20th-Ave-NE-98125/home/171917349. It is one of three houses built on a lot that used to be 25,000. Since the area is zoned for a maximum lot size of 7,200 square feet, that is as many houses as they could build.
Thus with a lot size of less than half, one developer built five times as many homes. Now consider the cost. Those three houses were very expensive. Combined, they went for around 5 million. Those townhouses went for around 700 grand a piece. With a bigger lot (like the one with the three big houses) they could have built 30 townhouses, and had room left over for a small playground. That is a gross of 21 million, or four times the gross of the big, very expensive houses.
It might cost more to build all the townhouses, but with modern, assembly line techniques, not much more. Other than the zoning, the base property value is similar. These lots are less than a mile away from each other (both off of 120th, a residential street). Clearly it is more cost effective to build townhouses than big houses in the current market. This in turn means that if there is a glut of housing, it is more cost effective to build townhouses. The price could probably drop in half, and it would still be worth it to build townhouses.
If they allowed it, there would be far more of those townhouses, and far fewer of those large houses on large lots. This would make townhouses much cheaper. I’m not saying they would be “cheap”, but they would be a lot cheaper than what they are now, and a lot more people in Seattle would be able to buy a home here.
This should become a TikTok post that Ross can just link to instead of having to re-type his argument twice a week on this blog.
I think the assembly line point is a key additional point. Even with just a dozen or so townhomes, that’s a big enough scale for the developer/general contractor to schedule work in an ‘assembly line,’ which is far more cost efficient than a developer building housing one or two at a time, plus the soft costs (legal, permitting, architecture, etc.) aren’t linear can therefore be spread across more units, just like the cost of land is spread across more units.
I was at my 45th high school class reunion, where a widowed classmate told me that she bought a “patio home” (a one story condo) in her small rural county seat city of 17,000 people. It’s just one more illustration of how overly restrictive setbacks and lots minimums are a result of local land use regulation with some zoning categories here — especially with our overly wealthy suburbs who think they are preserving their obviously fictional “small town character”. Consider too that these big lot SF zoning rules have only been around 50-100 years at most; it’s not normal for humans to always live so distant from each other’s houses.
Even without raising the pay, Metro could attract more applicants just with better ads. There are some benefits to driving for Metro that some may not know about. Provided the employee has a some seniority, because of the 24/7 nature of transit, bus drivers can: Choose when they work. Choose where in the county they work. Choose days off. Choose to be part-time or full-time. Not many jobs, even white collar one’s, give employees that kind of flexibility. They should advertise that more. Perhaps profile some pt and ft drivers who explain why they like working for Metro.
– Sam. Advertising expert.
I was pleased to see several of our houseless neighbors relieving themselves inside a route 7 bus this AM. It was explosive fun for all involved. Poor lady in the front got the full impact of the flying diarrhea.
,New York City is getting fed up with NIMBYs ($).
“In the 51-seat City Council, momentum is gathering to end a practice known as “member deference,” in which the entire body lets a member decide the fate of land-use proposals in his or her district.”
“As rents rise, the anti-development sentiment that once dominated Democratic politics is giving way to calls to build more housing, fast. Lately, even politicians who count themselves among the most skeptical regarding for-profit developers have thrown their support behind building units to ease the crisis.”
“Solving the housing crisis in New York City will require a regional approach. The city and its suburbs are connected by extensive rail lines allowing residents of Long Island and Westchester to commute to Manhattan. The system is an enormous strength. But for the better part of a century, zoning laws in Westchester and especially Long Island have severely limited the construction of higher-density housing developments. The zoning laws have their roots in the Jim Crow era of segregation, when they were used to keep Black Americans and others from buying homes in certain areas. The problem is especially acute on Long Island, where the biggest growth took place in the years after World War II, when the federal government backed housing discrimination through preferential treatment in government loans. Over time, these laws have contributed not only to racial and economic segregation in New York, but also to the affordability crisis by constraining the region’s housing supply. Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature need to challenge suburban zoning laws that make it difficult or virtually impossible to build the multifamily housing the state needs.”
“California last year essentially banned single-family zoning, something that leaders in Albany could consider as well. They could also could make government investment in the suburbs contingent on the elimination of exclusionary zoning. At the very least, state and federal officials could make it clear to communities in Suffolk and Nassau Counties that infrastructure improvements for the Long Island Rail Road will continue only if multifamily housing is built near transit centers.”
Yes, Reece makes some great points. I grew up in Germany in a six plex surrounded by SF, row houses, six plex rows etc in a smaller town outside a larger one. I could get most activities done locally and could take the tram to the larger city which had a downtown spider tunnel.
I do think cost of living is generally lower in Germany because of the variety of housing options and the fact that I can live in cheaper smaller cities as transit allows me to reach larger cities if I need to.
Germany has statewide rent control in all states. It gives landowners a moderate but stable annual profit; they just can’t make a killing. That doesn’t deter construction. Developers still build anyway because some profit is better than no profit, and they can’t evade it by leapfrogging just beyond the city boundary into the suburbs or unincorporated county, and it’s the developers’ own adult children and grandparents who benefit from affordable market-rate housing. Middle-aged people know they won’t be priced out when they’re elderly, so there’s less incentive to buy a condo/house.
The U-District has a food walk today, “$4 bites from nearly 60 restaurants”. Buses are rerouted off the Ave. I assume the farmers’ market is also on. A good excuse for a Link trip.
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