Sounder’s ridership is still just a third of pre-pandemic levels ($), even as Link has surpassed its 2019 level and Metro buses have recovered more than half. The Seattle Times headline says “Sounder’s trains future in limbo”. The article goes on to say, “Julie Timm, Sound Transit’s new CEO, said it’s too early to make decisions concerning Sounder’s future. It may be less critical right now, but with population and density growth, she believes ridership will return, if more slowly than hoped.”
Sounder’s new Puyallup parking garage will open a year late, in January 2023. ($) If Sounder’s ridership is down to a third, who will use the new garage?
Sound Transit gets two grants early for Federal Way and Lynnwood. ($)
Now the lower West Seattle Bridge is closed. When it rains it pours. It was damaged in the ice storm a week ago, and needs two weeks of repairs.
SDOT has answers to your sidewalk closure questions.
Seattle’s zoning got tighter over the 20th century, as residential zones allowing middle housing were downgraded to single-family only. Many of those small apartments and duplexes still exist, but are illegal to build today in those neighborhoods. I especially like the courtyard apartments, with a garden in front, or two rows of sideways apartments surrounding a courtyard.
The PSRC’s 2050 regional transportation plan is not aligned with the PSRC’s own 2030 climate goals, says Ryan Packer of The Urbanist. (Side rant: The Urbanist’s ads are very intrusive and annoying. Please tone them down. And whenever there’s an embedded slideshow visible, the PageDown/PageUp buttons stop scrolling the page.)
What’s wrong with an empty bus? (Human Transit)
Are my articles getting too long for the blog’s layout? I tend to write long sometimes.
This is an open thread.
288 Replies to “New Year’s News Roundup: Sounder Faltering”
Your articles and comments are great. Thank you for doing them. And spot on about The Urbanist ads…
Yeah, really nice job Mike.
The key issues for Sounder are ridership in October 2022 was just 32% of 2019, and then ridership declined another 13% in November 2022 from October 2022, in 2018-19 farebox recovery was 30% and in 2020 11% with a target of 23%, and whether to spend $1 billion allocated in ST 3 to increase the number of train cars and length of platforms.
Some like Timm hold out hope “density” and future population growth will improve ridership. Some like Tacoma City Councilmember and ST Board Member Kristina Walker think this is the new normal, and ST needs to revisit many of its assumptions. Matt Tucker, exec. dir. and CEO of North County Transit Dist. stated agencies that leaned heavily on farebox recovery have been hardest hit, and “Everybody over the next five years, by and large, is going to need to true up their business model”. Ridership on Eastcoast and Midwest lines range from 16% to 50% of pre-pandemic volumes according to the Washington Post, so Sounder is not an anomaly.
I think not spending $1 billion to enlarge trains and platforms is a no brainer, although I don’t know how that funding would be allocated among the five subareas. Cutting peak runs also seems a no brainer. Negotiations with BNSF would determine whether midday or evening runs are economically or logistical possible, but I highly doubt ridership midday or in the evening would support the cost of the train and track. Does anyone know how ST allocates the cost of Sounder among the five subareas?
Some want to reduce peak runs and increase midday and maybe even evening runs so those dining in Seattle can take Sounder back home, although as noted in the article negotiating that track time would be very “sensitive” and possibly expensive. I don’t know how many folks from Lakewood, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma dine in Seattle, why downtown Seattle would be any better than their own cities, and why they wouldn’t just drive when I-5 has no congestion at that hour and they still need to get home from the station, but it is one idea Timm said needs further study.
Although Timm noted transit is a generational investment and patience is warranted, “our forecasts need to be revisited because of Covid. At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to continue to stay the course”. [Ok, don’t quite follow that one]. The end of Covid relief funds will probably accelerate that revisit. As the article noted, and I have posted about many times, “The Sound Transit board has yet to revisit its rosy predictions”. That goes for project costs and ridership/farebox recovery across the board IMO.
As Mike notes in his summary, bus ridership has improved to 50% of pre-pandemic levels, and Link has recovered to 2019 levels if the opening of Northgate Link is included which the author termed “faint hints”, although ridership estimates vs. actual ridership are probably the better measure because the budgets are based on rosy future estimates.
Revenue and costs are forcing transit agencies to revisit pre-pandemic rosy projections, whether ridership, farebox recovery, TOD, population growth. Covid stimulus gave agencies and local governments breathing room to determine whether this is the new normal, and if so how to right size transit and government to ridership, farebox recovery, and tax revenue. IMO 2023 will be about budget deficits. For example, Seattle is estimating around a $250 million deficit even including the payroll tax and before layoffs at Amazon, and my guess is many of the maintenance issues at ST (and driver shortages at Metro) are the first signs of stressed O&M budgets. Even if Metro could find the drivers it could not afford to hire them.
This doesn’t detract from ST ridership falling so much since 2019, but it’s normal for transit ridership to fall from October to November because of the start of the holiday season. This is reflected in national as well as local numbers. You can see on the graph included in the Times article that there was an even bigger drop percentage-wise for Sounder ridership from Oct to Nov of 2019 than there was for this year (I think it’s a little disingenuous that they compare Oct. 2019 to Nov. 2022 in the article, for this reason, when there’s a clear gradual upward trend in Sounder ridership). To look at national trends we can analyze the APTA Ridership Trends graphs: https://transitapp.com/APTA
But yeah, commuter rail has taken a huge hit nation-wide when compared to other modes. The key quote in the article for me is this: “Sounder, meanwhile, was built around the traditional commute and its flexibility is hampered by BNSF Railway’s ownership of the rails.” It’s too bad that this is the case. There are plenty of other countries where commuter rail doesn’t have this problem of being owned by freight companies and can be run all-day in both directions.
It’s also worth noting that the S line gets something like 20 times higher ridership than the N line.
Isn’t the key issue for Sounder downtown occupancy & activity rates. Seattle (alongside SF & NYC) continues to lag the rest of the nation in downtown occupancy.
Either Seattle CBD returns are the regional hub for major employers, or it doesn’t. It seems to me we are clearly still in a transitional period where companies still have long term leases but don’t require their works to occupy that office space. Sounder doesn’t need new development, it just needs existing development to be re-occupied by employers that value the CBD as a district easily accessed by the whole region.
“Seattle (alongside SF & NYC) continues to lag the rest of the nation in downtown occupancy.”
Those three cities have a higher percent of jobs downtown than most other American cities, so even if they’re lagging, they may have a larger absolute number workers downtown than other cities.
” It seems to me we are clearly still in a transitional period where companies still have long term leases but don’t require their works to occupy that office space. Sounder doesn’t need new development, it just needs existing development to be re-occupied by employers that value the CBD as a district easily accessed by the whole region.”
AJ, yes. Downtown Seattle’s current 11% formal vacancy rate (no lease) will over time increase to match the non-occupancy rate, which today is 60%, or somewhere in between. But I would not call that traditional. Just the opposite.
Our firm had to wait until our lease expired to move out of Seattle because no landlord will let a tenant out early because the sublease market is awash with space and they can’t refill the space at any price. Most leases are 5 years with right of renewal by the tenant, with some 10 years, because landlords thought rates would go up forever and didn’t want to lock in leases below market increases. Those leases began to expire in March 2020 because that is when tenants started not renewing leases (we had around 28 months left on our lease in March 2020). So we will see a real spike in formal vacancy rates as the leases roll off and tenants move or just downsize.
“it (Sounder) just needs existing development to be re-occupied by employers that value the CBD as a district easily accessed by the whole region.”
Do you have any suggestions for how to do that, because that is the 64-dollar question? How to force employees onto packed transit to spend 2 hours/day in uncompensated time commuting to a city that is dead and they think is dangerous. How long can ST justify running Sounder at a 11% or 13% farebox recovery rate waiting for the CBD to “recover”? I think Walker is the one realist in the article: this is the new normal. 60% vacancy rates in downtown Seattle because occupancy is the same as vacancy when it comes to supporting transit. So Sounder S and N do not make economic sense and should be cut unless fares are raised dramatically to cover the farebox recovery drop from lost ridership.
Daniel, if “[y]our firm” is going to be “Lark From Home” as you predict that every “white collar” (and shoe?) job will be, why did you have to “wait to leave downtown Seattle”? You could just have made your lease payments while getting everything done remotely, right?
You should have been “outta heyeh” at the first mutter of displeasure from one of your terrorized but irreplaceable para-legals booted from the safety of the tunnel by the vicious train riders.
Tom, maybe I wasn’t clear. Our firm didn’t move to WFH (which personally I don’t like). We leased office space on MI. It wasn’t in our budget to pay for two offices, and The Smith Tower wouldn’t agree to terminate our lease or negotiate a buy out because they knew they would not be able to re-lease the space. Believe me, we begged for 12 months.
Our current offices are not as dramatic or nice as our offices in the tower of The Smith Tower. But I can (and do) walk to work, lease payments are 1/2 of The Smith Tower, parking is free for partners and staff saving $275/mo. per parking stall which staff love, and even though not what I would call exciting the MI town center has more retail vibrancy than Pioneer Square. I have actually started going out to lunch again.
Not every business has the resources Amazon does (although Amazon’s market share is down 50%). Most downtown businesses waiting for their leases to roll off can’t just open another office on the Eastside. So they are using their current offices with a combo of WFH. Most businesses I know want some in office work.
As leases roll off I imagine Seattle businesses will do what our firm did: lease smaller and much less expensive office space outside the downtown core, often with free parking, use some WFH, and locate in an area or city staff like to visit or shop/dine in so they are more open to some WFH because after work they plan to shop or get a drink. Like downtown Seattle once was.
There was a time suburban workers liked to go to downtown because it was exciting. They just hated doing it five days/week on packed transit when commuting time is uncompensated. I think staff will be open to some in office work if there is free parking or very convenient transit, and Amazon’s redesign of its Bellevue offices reflects that reality.
There is one thing you and Kemper Freeman agree on: Eastside women have an incredibly low tolerance for personal risk. Of course. Freeman made billions off his knowledge because those women buy around 98% of everything in America. Too bad you don’t type or are not a licensed paralegal willing to wait for a bus in the dark on 2nd Ave. because you could get a job downtown tomorrow.
Personally I was sad to leave the offices in The Smith Tower we had occupied since 1995. That is 27 years of my life. But I have no regrets today. It was the right move for our firm.
I meant to say Amazon’s market VALUE is down 50%. Microsoft’s is down 30%. Combined that is around $800 billion, and a lot of that stock is held by employees and local residents which will be a drag on the local economy. Unfortunately I know this from personal experience.
“Do you have any suggestions for how to do that, because that is the 64-dollar question? How to force employees onto packed transit to spend 2 hours/day in uncompensated time commuting to a city…”
Because the pointy-haired middle managers have to justify their existence, and they can just demand that employees come to their offices, even though the employees are more productive working from home.
I know people who are already having their work hours adjusted.
“Does anyone know how ST allocates the cost of Sounder among the five subareas?”
My impression is South King and Pierce pay for Sounder South, and Snohomish pays for Sounder North. North King doesn’t pay for it.
Correct. North Sounder is solely Snohomish. South Sounder is split between SK & Pierce. The split is very simillar to Link & STX math – operating costs are generally split based upon each subarea’s ridership, except for costs that can be cleanly assigned by geography (station location, track mileage).
“Public Transit is not like a private business and shouldn’t be treated as such when talking about investment into it. I’ve seen many folks fall into that trap, because they keep thinking it through a business lens when it’s needed to be looked through a social service lens. As it’s basically a public utility that benefits and services the community at large rather than is a private corporation.”
Then let’s compare transit to roads, which serve a greater social good than transit (and allow most transit). You don’t spend billions to build roads hoping future use will support the cost to build or expand roads. You build new roads or expand existing roads when the use and capacity demand it, (or use other methods like HOT lanes). Otherwise, you spend the money more wisely somewhere else.
If we get to the point like with 405 that we need to raise fares on Sounder to discourage riders because of capacity issues (i.e. HOT lanes) then we can look at spending billions to increase frequency and train capacity (i.e. more lanes on 405).
Public utilities are no different. Water and sewer lines are expanded when the use demands it because it is expensive. Transit follows where people choose to live and work, for whatever reason, transit does not determine that.
ST could always lease increased trips on Sounder if ridership levels demanded it, which is measured by farebox recovery. Even pre-pandemic Sounder ridership was not really worth the cost (and farebox recovery was 30% compared to 40% for Link) although traffic congestion from Tacoma to downtown Seattle was bad. Today the real question is how much Sounder service should be cut, or should it be eliminated altogether, unless fares are raised to at least reach the 23% farebox recovery goal. That doesn’t mean no transit. It means express buses and Link, and cars and trucks when congestion is down.
If ST is learning one thing it is yes, when the economy changes and things begin to go south transit is like a private company, hopefully. Or it runs out of money.
“You don’t spend billions to build roads hoping future use will support the cost to build or expand roads. You build new roads or expand existing roads when the use and capacity demand it”
Actually, there are numerous examples of governments doing the opposite. There are lots and lots of roads with two or even three lanes each direction that don’t even have enough traffic to fill up one lane. The wide roads make life more dangerous for everyone crossing the street, and often come at the expense of sidewalks, bike lanes, or space between the sidewalk and the street. In a few cases, such roads have even been reduced to better match their drivership and improve safety for bikes and pedestrians. We call this a “road diet”.
Asdf2, where lack of use warrants a road diet I have no objection if the alternative use is better.
However, the same goes for transit, and transit diets. You adjust expenditures to meet use. People stop using a mode or route for many different reasons. Big deal. Life changes, especially during a pandemic.
We are lucky ST is only leasing the Sounder tracks, and did not spend the $1 billion on upgrades to Sounder or God forbid buy the tracks, so that money can be saved and repurposed, and transit needs all the revenue it can get today for where the riders are. All I care about is 70% of riders stopped riding Sounder S. and farebox recovery went to 11%. So obviously time for a transit diet, not to move those funds to a non-transit use, but to move them to a better transit use. For some reason transit advocates have a very hard time doing that.
“You don’t spend billions to build roads hoping future use will support the cost to build or expand roads.”
Daniel, this is exactly how the interstate highway system was built out, and it is still being done on a more local scale (e.g., Daybreak in Utah, the Florida Turnpike extension, ect.). Historically, this is exactly how American westward expansion happened, although with railroads rather than highways. As far as transit, at one point NYC was building subway stations in the rural “exurbs,” which the neighborhoods sprung up around. Some Chinese cities are taking a similar approach.
Since the dawn of civilization, Egypt, Babylon, the Indus Valley, China, the Aztecs, settlement and development has followed transportation and infrastructure.
Sounder is a huge money sink because it operates a large amount of equipment in a single direction for only a few hours a day.
It really needs to become a true regional service, such as you see with the Regio trains in Berlin. RE1 operates every 15 minutes during peak periods, with much of the route operating every half hour for 14 or so hours a day. As it is typically faster than driving between points, they are quite popular.
These trains provide the same basic type of service as Amtrak Cascades as well as Sounder. Consider also that one service plan of Cascades is half hourly service.
So maybe trying to operate these as two completely separate services is a preposterous waste of resources and instead some method of merging them into a Regio train system that serves both needs with the same equipment should be considered?
Heck, I’d be happy with even something like Caltrain, where they have hourly headways on weekends. I’m less enthralled with the weekday schedule that six different interlined routes that start, end, and skip various sets of stations but hopefully we could avoid that…
Even Metrolink in the LA area manages to do a handful of round-trips a day on weekends for their busier heavy-rail routes.
I’m not sure how CalTrain and LA Metro were able to pull it off, but apparently they developed good working relationships with BNSF such that they could provide relatively good commuter rail service between BNSF’s freight runs.
The truly effective passenger rail operators of the world own their own tracks, and thus can make their own schedule. I’d love to see the Cascades trains run hourly, 24/7, like the LIRR, but that’d require some serious ROW takings. Or nationalization of the freight railroads.
Nathan, Caltrain owns its tracks. UP is a freight tenant during night hours only
That would require the state and Jay Inslee to put their money where their mouth is and pay up for it. But they’ve been so dead set in ignoring funding transit for a long time and telling the local municipalities to just deal with it. When in reality, they need to help fund projects from their purse like buying up the BNSF tracks or putting more money into local bus operators across the state. Which would also greatly help Amtrak as well with their Cascades operations.
What’s aggravating about the WA state government is their continuous push for really questionable highway projects like the Colombia River Crossing, the two highway stubs to the Airport and Port of Tacoma. All of which seem unnecessary or over engineered. In paticular the Colombia River Crossing for example with it’s widening of the highway.
On some level, it’s better now that Tim Eyeman is gone from the sphere of state politics as he sucked up a lot of air in the room with his anti transit tirades But I still feel that Olympia perfers to bury their head in the sand over transit infastructure funding when they keep hammering on about climate change.
To follow up on Tom and Zach, CalTrain is actually called CalTrain because the state took over paying for the service in 1980 and branded the name because SP wanted to abandon the service, and a three-county joint owners board was created in 1991 to take full ownership of the tracks and operations partly due to state grants. The counties’ transportation authorities were created around 1990 as distributors of transportation sales tax revenue. The CalTrain staff is co-located with SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority staff (they even share some staff positions) although they are governed by separate boards.
So what the others are saying — that Washington State gives rail transit lips service but doesn’t help bargain for tracks is correct. Of course the CalTrain track ownership transfer involved years of less than public sensitive negotiations to happen and SP was backed into a corner about having to sell the tracks or pay for the service themselves.
Is the plan to have the State buy the tracks from BNSF at a time when freight prices are very high and passenger ridership is down 70%? Farebox recovery is currently around 11%. What would farebox recovery be if ridership had to pay off the bonds issued to buy the tracks? Does anyone — including Timm — really think “density” or TOD or population growth will restore ridership on Sounder?
Yes. Our suggestion, decades ago, was to get ST, the state, BNSFF, and UP in the same room to overcome the monopoly power of BNSFRR. Could ST and the state pay BNSF to shift enough freight to the UP tracks to free up time for two-way all-day service? South Sounder provides good speed and reliability to several cities developed before WWII with street grids: Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, and Kent. The Tacoma-Seattle market is faster by bus if not congested. Not all trips need be long trains. The MBTA provides a network of all-day commuter rail service.
What would that cost Eddie, and who would pay? I don’t think ST has the money, and the state is unlikely to agree even if BNSF did, and they won’t.
How do you justify all day service on Sounder if even Peak service is so low today. We are talking 11% farebox recovery for peak. Yes, peak is down but still it must be better than all day non-peak.
The world has changed in the last 10 years. Federal Way Link will open in around 3 years and that will be duplicate service. The dollar per rider mile just does not pan out to buy out the BNSF lines and run all day Sounder service that duplicates buses and will duplicate Link.
My guess is Federal Way Link will have low farebox recovery. Sounder ridership will likely decline further in the future, so don’t buy Timm’s hopes about density and population growth. Folks just don’t need to ride this route anymore no matter what the population is. Thank God ST or the state did not buy the tracks 10 years ago, or pre-pandemic based on crazy population and ridership estimates.
Be like developers and builders: wait until the population growth actually occurs before spending billions. If population growth and ridership explode then look at buying the lines.
“Be like developers and builders: wait until the population growth actually occurs before spending billions. If population growth and ridership explode then look at buying the lines.”
Except that’s not how building transit works, the “well how are you going to pay for this” “well they should wait till the numbers are there for ROI” narrative doesn’t really work when talking about public transit.
Public Transit is not like a private business and shouldn’t be treated as such when talking about investment into it. I’ve seen many folks fall into that trap, because they keep thinking it through a business lens when it’s needed to be looked through a social service lens. As it’s basically a public utility that benefits and services the community at large rather than is a private corporation.
Buying the corridor in question is actually beneficial to the region both the Seattle region for Sounder and the greater PNW for Amtrak Cascades.
You’d be able to build a schedule that’d be more conclusive to areas it’d be serving instead of just a peak commuter service with heavy reliance on dead heading.
Be able to free up bus service hours for express and local busses for KCM, PT, and ST. Provide greater flexibility for riders and better options. It’d make some trips that’d require a car more optional. It’d also provide a fast and reliable service to the valley which has on some level played second banana to the Spine itself. Along with this would help with push development as well. Either you invest in a region’s future or you don’t and regret it later.
“The world has changed in the last 10 years. Federal Way Link will open in around 3 years and that will be duplicate service. ”
There is very little overlap between the cities that Link serves and the cities Sounder serves.
I would support all-day service, even over completing TDLE.
“ There is very little overlap between the cities that Link serves and the cities Sounder serves.”
So from Meadowridge Elementary in SE Kent it’s 3.3 miles and 8 minutes to Kent Station and 5.3 miles and 13 minutes to 272nd St Link Station. If you are afraid you’ll miss your Sounder train you mean that you won’t consider driving to 272nd? Given how much Sounder ridership is driving to the stations, it looks like overlapping markets to me. And that doesn’t even include people coming from west of SR 167 to use Sounder today.
” If you are afraid you’ll miss your Sounder train you mean that you won’t consider driving to 272nd?”
I wouldn’t be driving at all. I think there is a huge latent population that is looking for places that will provide the potential for a car-free lifestyle. Car ownership is incredibly expensive. If we went to 7-day, all-day Sounder, the areas near the station in Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, with the proper rezoning (or preferably unzoning), and investment and pedestrian and bike infrastructure and thoughtful feeder buses, could provide that.
“The world has changed in the last 10 years. Federal Way Link will open in around 3 years and that will be duplicate service. ” There is very little overlap between the cities that Link serves and the cities Sounder serves. I would support all-day service, even over completing TDLE.”
It would cost more to buy the BNSF tracks than complete TDLE because BNSF would require buying Sounder N. too. Ridership is down 70% for peak service to all these cities Sounder S. serves.
I think if transit was forced to raise fares to meet farebox recovery estimates it would force a little reality on transit advocates. Peak Sounder farebox recovery today is 11% with little likelihood of recovery. It is supposed to be 23% (and should be closer to 40% like Link). Add in the cost of buying the tracks (or just leasing them all day), the cost to operate Sounder through these major destinations like Sumner and Auburn, and set the fare to capture 23% farebox recovery.
If 23% farebox recovery on all day Sounder service cost $50 each way maybe that would temper the enthusiasm of buying a dying passenger railroad route.
I agree the route Link takes makes little sense except the ROW next to the freeway was cheaper. Link is predicated on first/last mile access, and to a great extent so is Sounder. The stops along Sounder South are never going to densify due to Sounder having all day service because the folks in Auburn or Lakewood or Sumner are not going to downtown Seattle anymore, and if they are going from stop to stop they drive, usually with tools. I didn’t see a lot of densification along Sounder before the pandemic when ridership was 70% higher.
What does make sense is eliminating the $1 billion in upgrades to Sounder in ST 3 and reallocating that to the five subareas (or the subareas paying for the $1 billion in upgrades). I am not fan of the spine but it does go from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond, as long as there is first/last mile access. The reality is the folks who live along Sounder S. drive cars and trucks.
“I think if transit was forced to raise fares to meet farebox recovery estimates it would force a little reality on transit advocates. ”
As long as those folks driving cars and trucks get their share of reality too, by jacking user fees to pay for road maintenance and building, not to mention medication for burning the earth to a crisp.
Daniel: Buying North Sounder could be a net benefit, not an expensive extra. If those trains were timed to better connect with the Mukilteo and Edmonds ferries, I bet there would be more riders. Run something that stops in Marysville/Tulalip and Arlington/Cascade Industrial Center, and more trains to Stanwood, I bet you’d get more riders. What doesn’t work in the year 2023 is making just a few peak hour runs a day.
Do away with the gas tax, and charge people a penny a mile times the number of tons their vehicle weighs.
Roll through an odometer check once a year, or just link your odometer to your checking account via transponder, like good to go.
Watching the pennies tick out of your account will be so much fun.
“Marysville/Tulalip and Arlington/Cascade Industrial Center, and more trains to Stanwood”
I would say even Mt. Vernon/Burlington as that’s now becoming exurbs for the region. Same with Lacey and Olympia.
As eddiew noted, people have long been pointing out the obvious that Seattle-Tacoma has two duplicative heavy rail rights-of-way that can be far better utilized for the benefit of the private railroad companies, our ports, and the public. I studied, mapped, formalized and branded the concept as SPIRE Regional Rail back in 2015(!), but the basic idea of investing in the UPRR main, in order to redirect BNSF trains onto it, dates back decades more.
We have only squandered time with this no-brainer improvement to the rail network. We could have been making sequential improvements to both 25ish mile corridors to support the switch, but despite the wide interest in the plan—from politicos down to the people—it’s gone nowhere. Leaders have no desire to engage or negotiate with the railways, despite the fact that similar efforts have succeeded elsewhere (a prime example is set by the Alameda Trench and L.A. area improvement projects. There plenty of examples of governments proactively collaborating with the railroads on new infrastructure).
BNSF and UP already share something like 185 miles of trackage from Vancouver, WA, to Tacoma, and so what is the value of that remaining 25 to the BNSF, especially after key facilities and connections are relocated to the parallel and newly double or triple-tracked UP main? Could we sweeten the pot by grade separating the entirety of the freight corridor, which should be done by now anyways? It would cost $5 to $12 billion in very rough numbers (which vary widely due to possible project scopes), but that cost could have been divided into ten-year increments beginning, say, in 1996. Or 2008. Or anytime.
And this isn’t just for Sounder services, although it is a principal beneficiary. This would have a societal impact here. The valley cities would no longer have dangerous or lengthy freight trains bisecting their centers, improving the quality of life of residents and visitors (they should get grade separation, too). The region would get regular passenger service on a public line, now with actually level platforms and plans for electrification—and far quicker trip times. Freight trains would deliver their cargo on a more reliable corridor divorced from capacity-crushing passenger trains, and removed from population centers and vehicles. Finally, it is the only realistic path forward for high-speed rail service into Seattle from the south. Without SPIRE, high-speed trains do not have local track access into Tacoma and Seattle.
Then again, if we are serious about regional trains, maybe we should start small and just widen the curve over I-5. Who am I kidding, though.
I once heard a national expert on passenger rail negotiations all over the US explain to a group of elected officials about the challenge. Basically, he said that any public agency that reveals their dedicated subsidy has already “lost” in the negotiations.
So things like itemized amounts in ST3 before railroad company negotiation is like revealing the amount in one’s wallet before haggling on a price. The railroad will always set the price just beyond what the subsidy promises because they know that the ballot measure guaranteed a minimum purchase price.
He said that the best strategy is for an agency to instead claim poverty and not have large publicly traceable dedicated resources to make the purchase. Once the railroad believes that they can’t do any better, they all agree to a more reasonable purchase price. At that point, the state steps in with a surprise grant to complete the purchase at a now-set price lower than it would have been if the public money was already known beforehand.
It’s all very tricky and it’s like playing a poker game.
“He said that the best strategy is for an agency to instead claim poverty and not have large publicly traceable dedicated resources to make the purchase. Once the railroad believes that they can’t do any better, they all agree to a more reasonable purchase price. At that point, the state steps in with a surprise grant to complete the purchase at a now-set price lower than it would have been if the public money was already known beforehand.”
I am not sure how this would work Al with the state’s open public meeting act and public records act and two-year budgeting process. Any attorney for the RR would simply file a PRA to obtain agency records, or call up a friendly legislator. An agency can’t begin negotiations to buy billions worth of track not knowing if the money is there, and budgets are only two years, especially if any federal funding is desired. The legislature could balk, or the makeup could change. Then what?
When it comes to BNSF and Sounder S., whether trading tracks, or the purchase price, it all comes down to ridership, which is down 70%. Timm indicated ST would study whether non-peak runs would result in more ridership, but still that ridership needs to come close to the goal of 23% farebox recovery, which is a very low goal compared to 40% for Link. Actual ridership drives levels of service which determines farebox recovery, although some on this blog don’t want to believe that and you can manufacture ridership. You really can’t, not when the cost is additional track time and trains.
ST budgets are very stressed right now, and my guess is S. King and Pierce are two of the most stressed subareas when you factor in the true cost of TDLE. Afterall, in the article I linked to it was a Pierce Co. Councilmember and ST Board member who questioned the viability and cost of Sounder S. based on current ridership. Her subarea is paying for it.
I also think there is a likely bias at ST for Link over Sounder, which really was always a stop gap measure until Link opened from Tacoma to Seattle. If anything, ST will want to goose ridership on Link from Tacoma by terminating Sounder S. because the ridership estimates post pandemic for TDLE look very high. After all, ST did the same with East Link: it terminated all buses across the bridge in order to “count” ridership at that spot, until the pandemic and WFH decimated cross lake ridership.
Pre-pandemic peak ridership on Sounder S. resulted in a 30% farebox recovery, which ST thought was adequate to consider spending $1 billion on upgrades, and maybe even some non-peak service. Those riders are gone. The real question is whether TDLE can get them back. My guess is no. The riders are just not riding anymore. Having TDLE farebox recovery well below the goal is enough underperforming rail for this area.
Troy, the Trench is a bit more complicated than you relate. At the time it was agreed, UP did not own SP, but SP did own Pacific Electric.
Each of the three carriers had its own access to the Ports, but all had problems. Santa Fe’s bellied way out west south of the airport and had long stretches down the middle of streets. It could never become “high capacity”. UP’s jogged way east and did not serve The pPort of LA, just Long Beach. The SP had a decent freight line, but it was constricted in several places. It also had the once “double tracked” Pacific Electric Alameda line to Wilmington, but no money to improve it.
Is UP had already bought SP, BNSF trains would not be using it. It probably would not be trenched, because “We’ve had those grade crossings for one-hundred years. Suck it up, cupcake.”
A public entity will do things to make facilities acceptable to the neighbors.
Tom, that is a fair point. Of course, there is nuance to any rail project that works to address local needs, and my post was not meant to convey the particulars of the Alameda Trench improvements. It was a broader comment that governmental collaboration with the railroads can result in beneficial infrastructure and service. We have seen that locally with BNSF-Sounder operations on its publicly financed triple tracked main (which was originally going to be all-day 30-min headway service before peak-hour ops were advanced), and we saw it with the BNSF-Cascades improvements funded through the State and Stimulus grants. It can be done, but there needs to be a vision and a willingness to work with private firms that are trying to make money.
Track capacity and availability is how BNSF delivers for its customers, so it will naturally work to protect it. How, then, can we work together to produce a system that benefits all users? We know we aren’t going to build greenfield passenger alignments into King Street, and we also know that one railroad hosts maybe 10 trains a day in priceless ROW that can accommodate hundreds more. It is obvious and intuitive what should be done in the Tacoma-Seattle area.
But we have no idea if the railroads would play ball, or how, because SPIRE hasn’t ever been an infrastructure investment of interest.
Alameda Trench history for those curious:
Good link on the Alameda Trench history, Troy, thanks for sharing.
Troy, another thing. BNSF and UP do not “share” trackage between North Portland Junction and East Tacoma; UP is an “overhead tenant” of BNSF, without the right to serve online industries.
Because the Port of Longview owns the tracks that connect to the BNSF main just south of SR432. But other than that, their trains cannot switch any customer. If UP did not have its own trackage between East Tacoma, Argo, and Harbor Island, it would have nothing but container trains north of the Columbia River in Western Washington.
At one time it also had a branch to the Gray’s Harbor region, but it was largely abandoned in the 1980’s except for some trackage south of the Satsop River in Montesano which is now owned by the regional that serves the area.
So there is a reason for the “redundant lines north of East Tacoma. As a postscript, the UP main cannot be triple-tracked through Pacific. It can just barely be double-tracked. Fortunately it is not as surrounded by warehouses and homes as is the BNSF to the north of SR18, but it’s not a simple thing to triple it there.
In any case, BNSF still serves lots of those warehouses lining its tracks north of Kent, so they simply will not sell. They have made that clear.
Nor will there be “HSR” between Seattle and Portland on its own right of way, so no “SPIRE” will be erected in the Northwest.
Tom, UPRR and BNSF both send trains on BNSF’s Seattle Sub, and therefore “share” trackage. I am keeping my comments as broad as possible for the readers, and am again not attempting to get into the particulars of Class I railroad agreements here.
The existence of the redundant local rail mains is rooted in historical competition and do not provide an any efficiencies that cannot be preserved with SPIRE. It should also be noted that SPIRE, at a certain scope, does not necessitate the purchase of the tracks, but merely the diversion of more freight traffic to UPRR. Obviously, this is less ideal than the public owning the ROW.
The UPRR ROW, throughout, can be double or triple-tracked. I do not agree with your statement.
Access to the Kent-area warehouses, and a connection to the Stampede line, can be built from the UPRR main.
I am under no illusion that either SPIRE or HSR will ever be built. However, I would love to see your sources for “they simply will not sell…they have made that clear”, as I don’t believe the proposal was ever put forward for them to entertain.
The problem with Sounder is that it was designed to serve a demand pattern that doesn’t really exist anymore: huge numbers of people all wanting to go to the same area in the morning, back in the evening, and not caring whatsoever about getting to anywhere else or traveling at any other time. The trains are so huge, it is a service that can’t really be scaled down to meet demand without eliminating the service entirely. Not to mention BNSF extracting all the money they can from Sound Transit, just for the right to run the trains.
I think the first thing I would like to see is a ridership breakdown between the north and south lines. North Sounder has always had much lower ridership than south Sounder, yet Sound Transit has historically lumped the two lines together in ridership statistics, allowing the north line to seem better and the south line worse than what they really are.
If the north line is as empty as I think it is, it really should be discontinued outright once Lynnwood Link in a couple years and replaced with express buses connecting Edmonds and Mukilteo to Link trains (Everett station already has such a bus). Just about anything Sound Transit could do in the Snohomish subarea – including even building Link to Everett, is probably better use of money than running empty sounder trains.
At this point, I can imagine sacrificing Sounder North and just running more local Amtrak service, coordinated with the ferry schedules as much as possible. It would take some investment, but I think a spur serving Marysville/Tulalip Outlets and Arlington (Cascade Industrial Center) could be popular, and this wouldn’t be limited to Sound Transit’s district. Such a fast growing area, and the buses don’t quite cut it.
Yeah, commuter rail has bee the slowest to recover from the pandemic (nationally). See page five of this report: https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/APTA-POLICY-BRIEF-Transit-Ridership-09.28.2022.pdf. Seattle is also a bit tech heavy, which probably increases the problems. It isn’t clear if it will come back.
I think not spending $1 billion to enlarge trains and platforms is a no brainer.
I agree. Same with the parking garages.
Beyond that though you get into the complex issues involving Sounder and BNSF. The people don’t own the rail. We negotiate for the ability to run the trains at a decent clip. This is costly. There is definitely value in running trains even if they don’t pick up huge numbers of riders (as Walker has explained before). Eliminating particular runs would hurt overall ridership. This goes for the “reverse peak” runs, or “peak” runs which increase frequency. Likewise, adding runs in the middle of the day add value, even if they don’t carry many (and chances are, they won’t carry many).
But since running the trains is very expensive, it is quite possible that complementary bus service might be cheaper. You can take the train, but if the train isn’t running, you take the bus. I don’t know how good the buses are (for each city served by Sounder). I’m guessing each has service, it is just that some of it isn’t express.
That $1 billion is about the same amount the four subareas were supposed to contribute to DSTT2, although I am not sure three subareas have that money. I think one of the driving forces in pursuing WSBLE and DSTT2 is so N. King Co. does not lose that $1 ($1.1) billion in contributions. It would be a lot easier for ST to reallocate the $1 billion from Sounder to WSBLE/DSTT2 since it is money the subareas never expected, and suddenly they would each have an extra $200 million for their projects including N. King.
I know Pierce would object, but it would realize $200 million by not having to contribute to DSTT2, and ridership and farebox recovery on Sounder is so low. Same with S. King Co. I wonder if ST and N. King Co. would be more flexible in their design for WSBLE — especially interlining — if they knew they would receive the $1 billion contribution no matter the design or how they spend it. Interlining if possible sure would make things easier politically for a West Seattle to Ballard line, and with that additional $1 billion maybe some kind of stub from Ballard to Westlake would be possible.
Commuter rail has been slow to recover in Vancouver too even though the rest of the transit system has done alright:
“While overall ridership across the TransLink system has returned to approximately 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the commuter train connecting Downtown Vancouver to neighbouring suburbs is lagging behind.
The West Coast Express, which runs between Mission, B.C. and Downtown Vancouver, is currently only seeing 43 per cent of the passengers it transported three years ago.”
Commuter rail always served an old-fashioned travel pattern, certainly not one that was seen as the future here or anywhere really. And WFH has really exposed its premise. In areas where there is enough legacy trackage to run an actual regional rail network, maybe there is some way to grow the service, but in areas like Vancouver Seattle without the system of underused rails and the population, I question what the future is.
Yvrlutyens, I noticed the West Coast Express had less people when we visited Vancouver in October. We like to stay at an Airbnb in Port Moody and enjoy the WCE as an alternative to Skytrain, especially with how fast it is and not having to make the transfer at Commerical.
I would tend to agree that the lack of employees needing to go into an office is having an impact on ridership. One thing that has a lot of ridership, since I’m currently on the Event service out of Tacoma. There is standing room only on this train. I haven’t seen this train this crowded since before the pandemic. Event service is a huge benefit. Less car traffic entering the city. And, riders don’t have to pay obscene amounts of money for parking.
There was another good article in today’s Seattle Times that Mike does not link to or mention: “What does it take to turn offices into housing”.
According to the experts interviewed, office building and rent values will plunge 39% while the U.S. faces a shortage of 3 million homes. Unfortunately, most office layouts are not well suited to convert to housing. In Washington D.C. about one in 20 buildings is a good candidate for conversion. A recent Moody’s analysis found just 3% of NY office buildings would be viable candidates for conversion.
On top of that is the difference in cost per sf. The median rent for an apartment in NY is $55/sf, and only 36% of office buildings have rents lower than that. Just the cost of conversion according to one expert could be $400 to $500/unit.
However the article also noted most office tenants are migrating to the true class A buildings and leaving the B and C buildings empty.
Between 2016 and 2021, 218 offices across the country were converted, 40% to multi-family housing, or around 36/year, creating 13, 420 apartments. This year (2022) the number is 42.
Some kind of tax benefit will likely be necessary to encourage more conversions, or a total bottoming of office building values which then hurts downtown cores and city revenues. Cities from Chicago to NY to Philadelphia are all exploring how to accelerate this conversion. Personally if each conversion is going to cost $400 to $500 per sf to convert, and offices generally realize much higher rents per sf which is factored into the building’s value and underlying loan, I just don’t see the economics of affordable housing for the property owner or any public subsidy, and the reality under Seattle’s MHA is most developers opt for the fee in lieu of because mixing market rate tenants in new or expensive construction and below 80% AMI affordable housing is objected to by the developers.
Here’s a good non-paywall version of that article: https://ggwash.org/view/82901/converting-office-space-into-housing-can-be-one-solution-for-the-regions-housing-crisis-but-not-the-only-solution
I see no reason for a tax credit; some buildings may get converted at market rates, and for others rents will drop until they are occupied.
“I see no reason for a tax credit; some buildings may get converted at market rates, and for others rents will drop until they are occupied.”
AJ, tax benefits are quite common when incentivizing housing construction, at least multi-family. There is the MFTE, MHA, and some others. Otherwise all you permit is market rate housing.
Personally I think some of these programs are abused, and the “affordable” housing usually means 80% very well screened AMI tenants, but the fee in lieu of has funded some truly affordable housing, although all other taxpayers pick up the slack.
The problem with using converting office towers to create affordable housing is the buildings are already built, the cities don’t have the money or knowledge to do it, and the property owners need no further incentives like increased height for conversion that is the usual tradeoff for affordable housing set asides.
Based on the article it will not be cheap to convert offices to housing, and one expert said it is cheaper to build new housing projects. $400 to $500 per sf is about the cost of construction for a pretty high end SFH on the eastside. If these converted units are condos you have the HOA fees too, which can easily top $1000/mo.
If they are apartments the rents will be very high, probably too high.
From what I read the economics are not there for conversion, at any price. Better for the owner to just have a building occupied at 30% than spend $400 to $500 per sf to convert the building to housing not knowing if the buyers or renters will materialize, unless the building defaults, the bank takes possession, and does nothing because it is a dying building. Especially in this market.
This isn’t good for a city though. I don’t think Chicago, Philadelphia and NY are exploring conversion solely out of the goodness of their hearts. A vibrant downtown core generates a lot of tax revenue that today is staying in the suburbs. You also need patrons if you want a first-class symphony, or theaters, restaurants, hotels, tax revenue to maintain parks and sidewalks and trees, stores and restaurants, all of which are critical for tourism which is a cash cow with no social costs to the visiting city. Commercial construction has also been a cash cow for cities like Seattle and Bellevue over the last decade, but that is coming to a halt.
When one looks at downtown Seattle from Yesler to Pike today it suggests cities might not have any choice. Better to give tax breaks for conversion to get folks back downtown than leave a building empty which doesn’t benefit a city either, and once a city center begins to deteriorate like a Detroit it can die, and bringing it back very, very difficult.
The last thing a city wants is for an owner to default, the LLC walk away, then no one wants to own the building which means the city owns it, like a vacant house that attracts bad things. Once one of these buildings declines to a certain point it can’t be restored or converted, and steel and glass buildings cost as much to dismantle as to build which is why we are beginning to see more and more B and C class “orphan” office buildings in older cities: the once shiny steel and glass buildings got old, and too expensive to tear down to replace.
Cities don’t make any money. They skim their tax cut off the top. Cities rely on others to make the money, and build things, and donate to charities and the arts. Once a city loses that money it begins to decline rapidly, and its national and international reputation suffers, and right now that is a real problem for Seattle after the pandemic. We will see some painful cuts in Seattle in 2023 for exactly this reason. No one is hurt more by empty office buildings than the city. Investors have an LLC shielding their assets and can walk away (and that happened twice at The Smith Tower), and the employees all went home to the suburban homes.
Daniel, those 72 million Chinese living in towers in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu demonstrate that people will live in tall buildings if either the economics are right or the location is unmatched. Seattle’s location is unmatched.
Converting the Class B and C buildings in Seattle would produce LESS housing than is directly adjacent to downtown Vancouver.
Just to be clear, you are opining that Chinese citizens live where they live because of their own free will as exerted when it comes to economic choices, not because of any influence exerted by the Chinese government.
Is that correct? Thank you very much in advance.
Playing the “Commies” card are you Mouse? Perhaps you don’t know about the “hukou” that Country Mice need to become City Mice in China. They are in the same sort of demand that home plate box seats at T-Mob Park are [when the M’s are good that is].
Yes, China is reverting to its Ancient dystopia of “People are worthless cogs in the Emperor’s Sacred Plans”. But for the two decades or so during which those forests of towers in Shanghai and Beijing were built, they did whatever they could to evade the need for permits and moved to the cities. Yes, “of their own free will”.
I know it’s hard to imagine that Chinese citizens actually can and do think for themselves, them not being Amurricans and all, but there you have it.
The point is that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, etc, have less adversion to living in highrises than Americans do. When Vancouver loosened its zoning in the mid 20th century to allow residential highrises in the West End, and Hong Kongers moved to Vancouver as a hedge against China’s takeover of Hong Kong turning authoritarian, they enthusiastically built those highrises and lived in them.
In Europe middle housing is more common than highrises — and cities are intentionally smaller between between “New York”-like London and Moscow — but they’re still voluntarily living in multifamily buildings and supporting government policies that make them the predominant form of housing.
If Americans instead of Hong Kongers had moved to Vancouver in the 20th century, they might have distained the highrise plans and refused to build them, and moved to the outer edge of the metropolitan area where they could get the biggest house.
Tom: I am not playing any card. China is not “communist” in the sense that Marx wrote about, this is obvious. Also, you know nothing of my own background; for all you know I may have grown up in a place not unlike China; please do not assume. Also, please do not use terms like “little mouse” when addressing me in the future. “Anonymouse” is a name which was picked at the suggestion of one of the current moderators. Attempting to turn it into a slur word is denigrating not just me, but them as well.
I do not expect an apology (so please do not make one, either) but I do hope you will consider that people on this blog do in fact have different backgrounds from the “typical” American.
I agree with Mike that people in different countries (or, more pointedly, immersed in different cultures) are likely to accept and even relish different living conditions. That is in fact the point – and, to an extent, the problem we have in Puget Sound now, where we have a group of people (many, but not all, of the older middle class residents in the area) who would like Seattle etc. to be “how it was” – somewhat suburban, definitely quiet, together with a group of people who would like it to be “more like “. These are competing visions for the region; neither is inherently “evil”, and it would behoove all of us to not treat those who have a different vision as “the enemy”. Myself included in that, of course :) I am, I will freely admit, not a fan of places like Shanghai (though I do like Montreal).
“In Europe middle housing is more common than highrises — and cities are intentionally smaller between between “New York”-like London and Moscow — but they’re still voluntarily living in multifamily buildings and supporting government policies that make them the predominant form of housing.
“If Americans instead of Hong Kongers had moved to Vancouver in the 20th century, they might have distained the highrise plans and refused to build them, and moved to the other edge of the metropolitan area where they could get the biggest house.”
Mike, you write as though the U.S. has no high-rises. The very first high-rise buildings occurred in the U.S. https://www.britannica.com/technology/high-rise-building. Just look at downtown Seattle or any U.S. city. There are plenty of high-rises throughout U.S. cities, even in Bellevue, if that is what you want (and native Canadians did not want them in Vancouver). Seattle has significantly increased the zones in which high-rises can be built, but the economics have to be there.
Europe has high-rises too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_in_Europe All over the place, usually in large dense cities. Even outside Paris. But Europe is much older and so has a lot more historical architecture that has been protected by restrictive zoning and NIMBY’s.
IIRC a recent video posted on STB noted that native Vancouverites complained about the high-rises, which often were in areas with few other high-rises. You can see that in Honolulu too. Very strange: a very tall condo tower surrounded by single story buildings well outside the downtown core. Same in the UW district. That is the definition of bad zoning, and A Joy is correct IMO when she argues zoning should begin at the center of density and move outwards (although I think the criteria to expand the boundaries of that zone should be exhaustion of capacity in the dense zone, not an automatic expansion just based on time).
The difference in many parts of Asia is population density in the city core. More people per acre, although it is a leap to claim those cramped residents like that kind of density. Plus geographical boundaries, like Manhattan or Hong Kong. But if you look at large countries like China you will still see the vast majority of buildings throughout the country are single story. Those countries are similar to the U.S. where 3% of total land is urban.
Seattle simply does not have the population to create that kind of density or building height, even in the downtown core these days. When you take the geographical size of Seattle, its population, and the amount of land zoned for residential/retail/commercial it just doesn’t create the kind of demand for land that results in high-rises, certainly for housing, and in this market we are seeing a huge pullback in those kinds of high-rises, including in Bellevue.
To obtain (or actually retain) the kind of European zoning and development you like (depending on the definition of “middle housing” you are using) Seattle and the region would have had to restrict the BOUNDARIES of development zones at the beginning (like Europe) in order to condense that development. Since this region is made up of many cities that did not happen, even in Seattle, although ironically the eastside has done a better job than Seattle in condensing zoning for retail/commercial.
To now upzone those far flung mostly SFH zones or increase the boundaries of dense zones like UGA’s before the zone’s capacity is maxed out only compounds the zoning errors made long ago (in your opinion), and makes it even harder to create density today because now density is discretionary, the reality is most Americans don’t like housing density, and this region — even Seattle — will never have the population to support that kind of density, even after 10 years of ahistorical population growth.
If there is one thing the PSRC go right in its 2050 Vision Statement it is that future population growth (which it inflated) would disperse into SnoCo, Pierce, Kitsap and S. King Counties, mostly in SFH zones, because the amount of available, inchoate land zoned residential and retail/commercial in these counties is almost limitless. The PSRC just never anticipated the pandemic that undercut the future population estimates, and WFH that dispersed existing residents.
The fundamental mistake progressive urban planners make in pursuing density is it requires BOUNDARIES, when instead those planners have constantly increased the boundaries of zoning available for housing, retail, commercial, into some of the remotest counties in the U.S., and now they want to double down on that error by upzoning those remote zones and areas. Just crazy. This four-county area would need at least 20 million residents to fill up those remote areas and create the kind of housing density you desire. Unless you like those tall condo towers in the middle of nowhere.
“That is in fact the point – and, to an extent, the problem we have in Puget Sound now, where we have a group of people (many, but not all, of the older middle class residents in the area) who would like Seattle etc. to be “how it was” – somewhat suburban, definitely quiet, together with a group of people who would like it to be “more like “. These are competing visions for the region; neither is inherently “evil”, and it would behoove all of us to not treat those who have a different vision as “the enemy”. Myself included in that, of course :) I am, I will freely admit, not a fan of places like Shanghai (though I do like Montreal).”
That is the wonderful thing about zoning Annonymouse: you can have both. The irony some don’t quite get however is if you continue to zone and upzone more remote areas you will never get the density some want. It will disperse, and there are just not enough folks living in the four-county area to support density when housing density is discretionary. If you want a swimming pool you build walls to hold the water to create depth. Otherwise the water just disperses on the surface in a thousand different directions.
“you write as though the U.S. has no high-rises.”
I’m talking about the percentage of people who live in highrises, middle housing, or single-family — and their attitudes toward what they want to live in or are satisfied with even if it’s not their favorite. And let’s exclude rural areas and small villages, because they’re irrelevant to what’s appropriate for a metropolitan area. Asians and Europeans by many measures live in higher density and are more satisfied with it than Americans are.
The problem with just letting everybody live in what they want in a metropolitan area, is that low-density suburban developments with ubiquidous cars and parking have disproportional environmental impacts and need disproportional subsidies that negatively affect everybody. The fact that many Americans are in denial about that, and society is structured to hide it from them, doesn’t change that. Low-density urban housing and drive-and-park-everywhere behavior has destroyed more farmland, caused more pollution, requires more energy and infrastructure and maintenance than any other housing arrangement in aggregate. A few low-density neighborhoods are no big deal, but when it’s an entire metropolitan area it doesn’t scale well. It also affects people’s health when they can’t walk to the store or school or a frequent bus, and leaves disabled people and children and elderly in isolation and sometimes unable to meet their needs — which more people could do if their nieghborhoods were walkable and had a variety of non-residential services. Walking is built into humans, so it should be our default way to arrange cities.
How do you define “metropolitan area” Mike. East King Co? SnoCo? Pierce Co.” SE King Co.? Kitsap County?
“The problem with just letting everybody live in what they want in a metropolitan area, is that low-density suburban developments with ubiquitous cars and parking have disproportional environmental impacts and need disproportional subsidies that negatively affect everybody.”
Ok, I can accept this viewpoint even if only 3% of total U.S. land is urban and I think people should be able to decide for themselves how they want to live. And most urban areas are pretty much treeless.
But the zoning has already occurred, and the development. SFH zones run from the northern tip of SnoCo to the southern tip of Pierce to the western tip of Kitsap to the southeastern tip of King Co. That is my entire point. There is nothing you can do to change that now.
Much of that residential SFH zoning remains undeveloped because this region just does not have the population to make developing it profitable, but the zoning is in place if the economics ever materialize. The PSRC believes that future population growth will disperse to those areas, but there is virtually nothing the PSRC can do about that, especially post pandemic, and its population estimates look to be way high.
There is no way to stop those folks from doing that if they want. The opportunity to FORCE housing density on citizens ended when all those remote areas were zoned for development, including eastside suburbs that exploded in the 1970’s to 1990’s. European NIMBY’s did not make that mistake; they created zoning boundaries, and limited regulatory limits in many of their cities. Once you upzone, including rural to SFH, you can never go back. This region just never built a zoning swimming pool and so the water dispersed among 7000 sq miles.
So now progressives want to mildly upzone all those remote zones. Why? They will never become urban or dense or have retail because retail can’t survive in Seattle today. Any future population growth will disperse to those upzoned areas at the expense of urban areas like Seattle.
I just don’t understand what you hope to achieve through zoning. You can’t uNzone the SFH areas. The region does not have the population to create one true urban area let alone 10 or 20. You can’t force folks to live in multi-family housing in an urban area unless they want to. Housing density is discretionary because anyone can choose whether to live in multi-family housing (depending on income) in an urban or quasi-urban area or live somewhere in the nearly 7000 square miles that make up the four counties.
Unfortunately, right now the one urban area is Seattle, but for the rest of the region Seattle is the poster child for anti-urbanism.
The key is not how to destroy SFH zones because you don’t like them. The key for urbanists is how to create and sell dense urban living in a city that is not doing urbanism well during a time most of the country is deurbanizing. Sure we could end up with some mildly upzoned SFH zones, but that actually works against creating any kind of attractive urban density because the future population growth will be small. You complain about the original decision to migrate housing to the remote edges of the four counties, but then want to double down on that decision. Why, when Europeans did just the opposite?
When I read, “It also affects people’s health when they can’t walk to the store or school or a frequent bus, and leaves disabled people and children and elderly in isolation and sometimes unable to meet their needs — which more people could do if their neighborhoods were walkable and had a variety of non-residential services” I wonder why you are so concerned, because the folks you are worried about are not worried. We can’t walk to a frequent bus because Metro can’t service such a huge area, and there is a lot less poverty on the eastside than in Seattle. Otherwise they would move, and the suburban property prices would not be so high. No need to worry about us.
I think what you are really concerned about is the sorry state of urbanism in Seattle today, and that has nothing to do with the SFH zones that were created in the 1970’s for the same reasons urbanism is failing in Seattle today. If anything is driving the fight against upzoning and “urbanism” on the eastside today it is what those residents see happening in Seattle.
If you want a dense, vibrant, urban Seattle you are going to have to sell the limited four county population that is a safer, happier, better way to live than in the surrounding 7000 square miles. Having The Seattle Times post front page articles about how to fix 3rd Ave. is not very good advertising.
Hong Kong — a city known for its towers — was a British protectorate until recently. Toronto is also known for its towers. So is Singapore. These are countries with various levels of freedom, not that much different than America.
Ballard, Fremont, South Lake Union, the Rainier Valley and plenty of other places in Seattle were once considered undesirable. South Lake Union, Fremont and Ballard were industrial not so long ago. But, people have to live someplace, and in the process of finding economical places to live they created activity centers in those places. They became desirable, and while this forced out those who had moved there originally it created an attractive place.
This can happen in downtown Seattle too, but the missing ingredient is housing. Without housing, South Lake Union is just The Mercer Mess. Without residents, downtown is just another soulless suburban office park with worse parking.
By metropolitan area I mean urbanized area: as far as the quarter-acre-or-smaller housing developments go. Last I saw the edges were Tumwater, Arlington, and Issaquah.
I don’t know as much about Kitsap County and find it hard to categorize so I’ll ignore it. Bainbridge and outer Poulsbo were rural when my dad lived there in the early 90s, but since then it has gotten more exurban-like, with more Seattle commuters, more McMansions, and Winslow and Silverdale have grown.
What we need is infill housing in the close-in areas. Within the ring of urban villages in Seattle. The area in and near the Bellevue-Redmond-Kirkland triangle. South King County around 99, 104th, Renton, etc. The Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, 99 triangle. Allow middle housing in all the single-family areas within that. It’s not as important to upzone outside it.
The far-out exurbs like Woodinville, Snohomish outside the cities of Lynnwood, MT, and Everett, and Pierce outside the cities of Tacoma and Lynnwood, should never have sprawled in the first place. That’s where we should have set boundaries. If I were king I’d bulldoze them and turn them back into farmland. But that’s not going to happen, so we have to make lemonade out of lemons.
So there’s three kinds of areas: within the urban-village rings and suburban-city triangles, outside them, and the far-out exurbs. Each of them needs a different approach.
Within the rings and triangles, make the minimum zoning missing-middle. Places like between Phinney Ridge and Ballard, and between Greenwood and Wallingford. Surrey Downs, single-family Wilburton, south Kirkland, etc. Areas close to an urban village and frequent transit hub.
Outside the rings, it’s less important to upzone. Magnolia, the Lake Washington shore, Newport Hills, Somerset, Covington, etc. We could upzone it for idealness or equality, but if we don’t or we leave it for later, it doesn’t matter that much because they’re more remote.
The exurban sprawl in Woodinville, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties need frequent buses so there’s a viable alternative to driving. You can’t just leave hundreds of thousands of people with the current service or cut it back further.
Mercer Island is such an anomaly that we shouldn’t make policies for the rest of the county based on conditions there.
“There is no way to stop those folks from doing that if they want. The opportunity to FORCE housing density on citizens ended”
Upzoning doesn’t FORCE anything on them. It ALLOWS property owners to build denser if they want. If they don’t want to, or if you’re right that there’s not enough housing demand, it won’t happen, and you nimbys have nothing to worry about. And as I said, I’m not talking about upzoning non-downtown Mercer Island or Magnolia or Spanaway or Brier. We need to major in the majors, and upzone the most important areas first. Those are the West Woodlands and Auroras and Beacon Hills and Surrey Downs of the world.
Anonymous, all that could have been avoided had you not used the debating club aside to the judges in which a speaker metaphorically holds a hand to the side of their mouth and winks to the audience “What kind of moron would say THAT”!?
In fact Chinese did move by the hundreds of millions to the forest-of-towers cities because they saw clearly that it was the only way they could all live without covering up all the farmland and starving. And it gave them a better life.
Hong Kong citizens already lived in a place that was hyper-dense, so they covered their bets in Vancouver because of the Commonwealth ties.
There’s no group of people in America who need a “bolt-hole” like the Hong Kongers did. So “it can’t happen here!”
That’s largely true, but it doesn’t have to happen here at anything approaching the scale in Asia or even Vancouver for the Seattle First Hillside to host a quarter of a million happy residents, the point I was attempting to make to Daniel.
And I did not use the term “little mouse”.
@Mike Orr: I work in Woodinville, and it is definitely not an exurb, it’s a suburb that’s adjacent to other Eastside cities and is even adding housing density in its central area I can’t call it “exurban” when it’s just a 15-minute drive from my home in Kirkland. Woodinville’s a great location if you want to live within a large area but don’t want to put up with the noise and commotion of a city, and can’t afford the higher taxes and housing of Bellevue and the rest of the Eastside.
If you want exurban, try Duvall or Carnation.
I feel the need to step in and comment on the perceived connection between high rises in Vancouver and immigration from East Asia. This is wrong-headed. In fact, almost the opposite is true. Census data show the areas of the city with the highest percentages of people of East Asian origin are Richmond, south Vancouver, east Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam and north Surrey. Downtown, the West End, False Creek and Kitsilano all have lower percentages. Certainly from someone who lives here, I have never perceived any high rise neighbourhood in Vancouver to be particularly Asian.
The map of languages show a similar pattern. Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean and Punjabi are the second most common languages spoken at home almost everywhere in metro Vancouver except North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Downtown, the West End and False Creek where the second most common language is Farsi. Korean is the second most common language in the District of Langley – for a Seattle comparable, read Issaquah.
Vancouver’s first neighbourhood with heavy high rise development, the West End, was developed long before immigration from Hong Kong prior to the handover became a thing in Vancouver, and today it is highly mixed. Not particularly anything. The area north of False Creek was developed around the time before handover and that had more Hong Kong investment and immigration, but again, nothing like Richmond.
“I work in Woodinville, and it is definitely not an exurb”
Exurb in the sense that it’s so far from downtown Seattle and Bellevue, not that it’s barely developed. It’s post-1990 growth that should have been infill closer in instead.
Mike, here is a definition of the criteria to be counted as an exurb, according to Wikipedia:
To qualify as an exurb in the Finding Exurbia report, a census tract must meet three criteria:
Economic connection to a large metropolis.
Low housing density: bottom third of census tracts with regard to housing density. In 2000, this was a minimum of 2.6 acres (11,000 m2) per resident.
Population growth exceeding the average for its metropolitan area.
It helps to use the same definition of terms as everyone else as to ensure that we are discussing the same things. I apologize if this sounds snarky. It is not – it is a genuine problem which is hard to solve if we do not all (including myself) work at it. This is why I try to provide sources of all my comments, in this case it was this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exurbs_in_the_United_States
Note that, for WA, the only area identified is Island County.
Mr. Luytens, thank you for the stats on Vancouver. Clearly the folks living in Hong Kong who have invested so much in Vancouver aren’t the majority of the high rise residents.
So that is actually GOOD for the prospects for further urbanization of downtown Seattle. It shows that “ordinary North Americans” — grant Canadians, who are culturally a bit less hyper-individualistic than the US population — are interested in living in high rises with spectacular views.
Woodinville is 10 mile from Bellevue downtown. From Seattle downtown that’s Shoreline or Renton. Woodinville might be hard to get to from Ballard, but it’s not really far from most job centers, which is there a number of midrise apartment buildings in development for downtown Woodinville right now.
“Personally if each conversion is going to cost $400 to $500 per sf to convert, and offices generally realize much higher rents per sf which is factored into the building’s value and underlying loan, I just don’t see the economics of affordable housing for the property owner or any public subsidy,”
I don’t see the economics of letting these places sit vacant, if there is no interest in using them for their intended purpose.
It may very well be these places become market rate housing rather than low income housing.
To me it seems the most important thing is to make sure zoning laws are in place to allow it to happen, if the owner wants to do so. The John Handcock building would not exist as a mixture of commercial, retail and residential if zoning only allowed it to be office space.
Glenn, I think the existing zoning would allow downtown Seattle office buildings to be converted to housing. I think the main issues are whether the building layout works and economics. I will be interested to see if any planned downtown buildings are modified to include more housing.
At the very least, ST needs to put new parking garages on hold for two or three years. They apparently aren’t needed. The same is true for platform extensions.
Further, Lynnwood and Federsl away Link will eat into Sounder ridership further. A decent proportion of Sounder riders will drive the extra few miles to Link so that they don’t stress about missing a train. Frequency is a huge benefit to Link.
I don’t remember seeing this on previous news roundups, and I can’t find it: SDOT has updated the Online Engagement Tool for the Seattle Transportation Plan, which provides interaction with the current starting drafts of the various modes covered by the Plan. This may be the first time all the modal plans have been overlaid onto a single, well-designed interactive map, and it’s quite useful.
Comments are open until February 23, 2023.
I’ve been poking through the maps and getting very frustrated – it’s blatantly apparent that the Seattle Transportation Plan will not be a comprehensive assessment of the various transportation needs of the City as promised, but just the four previous modal plans (pedestrian, bike, transit, and freight) and a new modal plan (“People Streets”) wrapped in a trench coat. The obviously missing aspect of the plan is discussion of the SOV network – which tells me SDOT will continue to reinforce the status quo of car-dependency by starting with the basic assumption that all public ROW is fundamentally meant for SOVs. Apparently the best SDOT can do is offer to chisel away a few feet of previous road-width for those pesky other uses.
The proposal that “People Streets” might be an actual designation for a pittance of our ROW is a glaring indicator that SDOT is still fully bought into the midcentury marketing scam that our streets are fundamentally for cars, not for the people systemically coerced into using them to get around.
I flew into Sea-Tac last night and tapped my ORCA card on the reader at the Link station, only to notice three seconds later that someone had taped hand-written “No fare today” signs onto the TVMs. At that point I remembered reading a while back about New Year’s Eve being fare-free, but that wasn’t top of mind when I was just trying to get home from the airport so I tapped my card as usual. I discovered at that time the new ORCA readers don’t support the “tap off within a few minutes to not be charged train fare” feature that the old ones did. So I ended up paying fare for what was supposed to be a free ride, because Sound Transit failed to deactivate their ORCA readers or provide any official signage at their stations about the fare-free day. The readers at my destination station were also active (I tapped off so I at least didn’t pay for fare all the way to Northgate); TVMs were turned off with no explanation, not even a hand-written note there.
Compare that to the King County Metro bus I transferred to, where they made special printed covers for the ORCA readers saying there was no fare that day. No one mistakenly paid on that vehicle!
I took Link from Roosevelt to ID on NYE. Decently crowded and I was the only person to not tap on. No free fare signage at all.
Also 1 broken down escalator at Roosevelt and 1 broken up escalator at ID.
We were waiting for Link at Seatac on NYE, and someone who I’m assuming was a tourist was confused about why all the fare machines were out-of-order, and missed one train because she was trying to figure out how to pay. I had to tell her she didn’t have to worry.
You’d think that with the newly-networked ORCA readers with their nice LCD displays, Sound Transit could just put up something about how everything is fare-free for the day. Given that it took months just to get them to display how much balance is left in a card’s e-purse, maybe that’s expecting too much, though.
Or put a cloth bag over ORCA readers like the agencies have done in the past.
How much time does it take a security guard to put a bag over four readers at one station? Does ST have bags on standby at the station for whenever they’re needed?
A recent article https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/bus-electrification-a-comparison-of-capital-costs/ argues that trolley buses are a better investment than BEBs. Rather than building out charging infrastructure, should Metro rather expand the trolley wire network or at least use the downtown network and rely on a small battery for the last mile?
Metro started deploying BEBs in South Seattle where there are few trolley wires, but as it expands, it might make sense to look at trolley options or even look at lighter and automated systems such as APMs (either cable or rubber tire based) or gondolas rather than building huge charging stations and additional OMFs.
yes, Seattle and Metro could partner on it.
BEB = Battery-electric bus
Copper wires transport electricity much more efficiently than converting the energy to chemicals and back. Battery buses expend energy just to move the heavy battery. Have a small battery for five minutes of off-wire use in awkward locations. Recent Metro trolleybuses have that capability but Metro has been reluctant to use it except in emergencies. Cities with the most rational transit networks have trams first, trolleybuses second, and self-powered buses only to fill in around that.
The issue isn’t really about energy efficiency, it’s about cost of equipment – do you pay by the bus or pay by the mile of roadway with bus service? Even without electrification, diesel fuel, which is far less energy efficient than battery buses, comprises only a small portion of Metro’s operating costs, and is dwarfed by the costs of the buses themselves and the drivers to run them. The cost of the extra kWh in charging losses and additional weight of battery vs. trolley is negligible.
Weight in particular matters less than you think it does. A heavier bus takes more energy to move, but also puts more energy back into the battery pack when it stops. More weight means slightly more rolling resistance and heat loss in the motor, but that’s about it. In any case, a full battery bus will still be carrying more weight from human passengers (the combined weight of all the people on board a full bus equates to several tons) than from the battery, and the impact of passenger volumes on Metro’s energy cost is already negligible.
So, going back, the real question is about up front costs – pay by the bus for big batteries or pay by the road-mile to install trolley wire. If the entire metro service area were just Seattle between downtown and the ship canal, of course the trolley wires would win. But, the actual service area is far larger than that, and the cost of installing trolley wire for every single bus route in King County, all the way down to the every-two-hours route #208 to North Bend, probably runs well into the billions. And for areas like North Bend that will never receive frequent service, such costs become very hard to justify.
Back in the 1930’s, when the transit system was about frequent service over a very tiny area, trolley wire made sense. But, the way the county has grown since, it just doesn’t make sense anymore.
Now, that’s not to say trolley buses should be abandoned completely. Existing routes that are already operated with trolley buses should probably continue to do so, since the buses will be cheaper and save a small amount of energy, and there’s no reason why not. Strategic investments in trolley wire where a small section of wire allows an entire route to be run with trolley buses also probably makes sense, for example, SDOT’s planned electrification of route 48. But, an entire countywide fleet, almost certainly not.
I think it depends. If the goal is to simply electrify one more bus route, leaving diesel for all the rest, trolley wire probably is cheaper, since you can cherry-pick that one route to be something relatively short where much of the trolley wire is already there.
But, if the goal is to electrify the entire Metro system, going all in on trolley technology gets very expensive, very fast. Trolley wire also constrains future service restructures, since any time you want to add bus service on a street that doesn’t already have it, you have to add trolley wire. And, with trolley buses limited to 30 mph, I don’t know how to run any bus service on freeways at all.
A 100% trolley fleet also makes pilot projects to test out bus service to new neighborhoods prohibitively expensive, since you’d have to spend tens of millions of dollars up front building trolley wire, not knowing if the service will generate enough ridership to even keep running after the next recession. For instance, the proposed East Link bus service restructure adds bus service to new corridors that don’t currently have it; had the fleet been trolleys, some of the routes proposed, such as Woodinville to Redmond, would not have even been considered, and we’d be looking at permanent holes in the service network that could effectively never be filled, simply because of where the trolley wire goes and doesn’t go. Routes like the 224 or Trailhead Direct would also be economically infeasible to offer.
Trolley wire is also vulnerable to NIMBY opposition. Nobody will object to diesel buses on their street being replaced with battery buses, but there are people, rightly or wrongly, who will object to trolley wire being installed on their street, and Metro would have to waste valuable staff time proving to a judge that the trolley wire would not “ruin” the neighborhood character, staff time that would be better spent in other ways.
Also, the cost of batteries is expected to undergo long-term declines, while the cost of trolley wire isn’t. Batteries are also going to be needed in so many ways to fight climate change, from backing up wind and solar power to electrifying private vehicles, that I would argue that any attempt to meaningfully reduce global carbon emissions and minimize climate change is inherently doomed to failure if battery prices do not go down, as any carbon reduction strategy compatible with present-day battery prices/supply chains is either just tinkering around the edges or requiring enough of a lifestyle sacrifice for large enough numbers of people as to be political suicide. I believe battery prices will go down for the simple reason that they *have* to go down, otherwise, the entire world is ***ked. And, when they do, a Metro fleet that is mostly battery powered (but still uses trolleys for existing trolley routes) makes the most sense.
It seems to me the important thing is to concentrate on doing what makes sense.
Eg, there are routes that aren’t going to change much. The E is pretty much always going to be the E, and much of the route can’t even divert because the side streets are too narrow. It’s fairly frequent and busy. It has to stop often enough that electrification could help a lot with accelerating and braking.
The 775 will never make sense to electrify, unless the whole area is significantly restructured.
It would also help if there were a good national program. Trolley buses are expensive because so many of the overhead parts are produced in small quantities. If a bunch more cities went that direction, the cost could come down a lot.
I was thinking of Seattle routes, not outliers like the 208. Vancouver has a lot of trolley routes in the city, but when I took the Hastings route it went to the city boundary and transferred to an autobus for Burnaby and the mountain climb to SFU. In St Petersburg all the city buses I saw were trolley routes, but when I went to a WWII cemetery I took the metro to the second-last station and an autobus through less-developed areas to it.
Routes like the 5 come to mind, and it has always been sad that the 11 runs in an area of trolleybuses but isn’t. Still, there’s the complication of the pending RapidRide G restructure, and maybe it will have to wait until the routes settle down after that. In the Eastside, RapidRide K comes to mind, and the proposed Redmond-Eastgate route and Crossroads-UDistrict. Although can trolleybuses get up to freeway speed without derailing? And it would require WSDOT to install wire on the bridge, and that’s probably unlikely. In South King County, there’s pending RapidRide I, which is already prefigured by the 160, so the route is unlikely to change. But really, like housing and everything else, if we just do Seattle first, that would be an accomplishment.
I’m with asdf2, in that it depends on what your goal is. If you are trying to electrify as much as possible for a certain amount of money, then chances are, increasing our trolley system is the best bet. For that matter, even just investing in more efficient diesel buses are a good value if you are trying to reduce emissions. We’ve basically been doing that for a while now.
But if you are planning on electrifying every bus in the fleet, then we have to go with batteries.
asdf2, I agree completely with your analysis, but I expect that limits of materials science will be reached before batteries become cheap and environmentally friendly enough to truly phase out the ICE.
So what happens then? I guess you hinted at it, but I don’t think people have yet even begun to realize how bad — and heartbbreaking — it will be.
asdf2, one thing I forgot to mention. Trolley buses are not “limited to 30 mph”, at least, not by anything inherent in the vehicles. Maybe Metro has such a rule, but they do not require it. ETB’s regularly exceed 80 km/hr (50 mph) in Europe where they are some long lines headed into the suburbs.
The higher speed lines do have more maintenance because they use taught overhead, rather than the sort of slack that Metro rebuilt the system with in the late 1970’s. Before that time, the ETB’s used to “sing”; you could hear the overhead pinging when the bus was a couple of blocks away, long before you could hear the bus itself. It doesn’t do that now because the slack sections don’t pass the sounds as well.
The Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad used trolley poles and regularly operated at 90mph. Apparently it requires a bit more maintenance to keep the overhead smooth enough for that. I don’t see why that same principle shouldn’t apply to trolleybuses.
My understanding is Vancouver BC operates some trolleybus routes at 45 mph in sections, but I’m not sure where.
As the author of the article, I hope I may be permitted to give an overall response to some of the comments made. First some general comments.
I wrote the article nearly two years ago because I was getting tired of the exclusion of trolleybuses from the general debate in N. America about bus system electrification. I am referring to national politics, media, industry conferences, etc., not local discussion in Seattle, where trolleybuses may occasionally be mentioned. The essential point is that for heavy duty services, modern battery trolleybuses with In Motion Charging can be cost-competitive with BEBs. The article does not argue against the use of BEBs for light or medium loaded systems, simply that trolleybuses should be considered in heavily loaded applications.
Modern battery-trolleybuses have relatively small batteries (say 50 to 70kWh) that are repeatedly charged when running under wires. Prototypes of the new versions of the New Flyer trolleybuses will be delivered to SF Muni and will have an off-wire range of around 20 miles. There is plenty of experience in Europe and some in San Francisco and Dayton of running bus services with battery-trolleybuses running off-wire for 50% or more of the route distance.
If people can get their heads round this idea, then they can envisage a system where *existing* trunk overhead wiring alignments are used to add additional battery-trolleybuses to run extensions and branches off the main trunk alignment. There would then be scope for additional electrified routes and an increased electric bus fleet either:
– without any additional wiring at all; or
– worthwhile additions where only short additions to the wiring network would be needed.
The forgoing leaves plenty of scope for deploying BEBs on a large number of other routes spread through the conurbation. There is a role for both types of vehicle.
Addressing specific points made by @asdf
1. Battery weight does have an effect on legal permitted passenger loads. As a rough rule of thumb, the increased vehicle weight plus charging downtime issues means that planners allow for a 20% larger fleet when using BEBs.
2. I note the comments about flexibility, route development etc. but the concept of battery-trolleybus with a 20 mike off-wire range will often be able to address this issue. And as previously noted, it’s a given that the system will need a large fleet of pure BEBs.
Trolley wire in the core, in motion charging to serve non-wired branches, and then pure BEBs for the remaining suburban/rural routes.
In Sweden, Germany… they are testing fully automatic overhead wire charging for trucks on freeways at full travel speed, that might even work for regional buses.
It’s not just that BEBs are heavy, they also need to be charged, meaning they need chargers and more parking at the OMF and people who move them to the charger and away again.
As Alon said: BEBs may have their space on low frequency routes in the suburbs, but routes like the 48 should be electrified asap and then other routes could use the downtown trolley network for charging a small battery along the way.
Yes, I never meant to dispute the fact that route 48 should be a trolley bus, with most of the wire already there. It definitely should. I’m just not convinced extending wire to east long and south king would be cost effective.
A battery/trolley hybrid could be an interesting option to look at, where routes like the 101 or 150 use trolley wire to charge their batteries while downtown, while running on battery power outside of downtown, potentially reducing the size of batteries needed to run the route. I’m guessing such a strategy would quickly run in practical issues, for example not being to pull enough current from the trolley wires to charge the batteries much, cost of the pantographs, and unacceptable passenger delays raising and lowering the polls when entering and exiting downtown. But, it’s certainly worth at least a preliminary exploration in case my above points turn out to be overblown.
Yes, as with all forms of electric transit, the amount of electric service that you can provide is limited to the amount of installed power (i.e. the power rating of the grid links and substations). I don’t know the details of Seattle’s installation but there is usually at least some headroom. Depending on the number of additional trolleybuses proposed, it may be necessary to uprate some substations but if using battery-trolleybuses with 20 mile off wire range, KCM would not need to to add new wire for extensions. I’m more familiar with the situation in Vancouver, where the amount of installed power would now be enough for a much larger fleet (maybe double) of battery-trolleybuses.
Yeah I don’t see the trolley wire extended much beyond Seattle, but with 20+ miles of range, routes like the 40 or the E could be trolley-hybrids without needing to run trolley wire along the majority of the route.
For example, it may be possible to run trolley wire along California to allow for the C, 50, 22, and 128 to all charge during the segments where they overlap, but do not need to run wire elsewhere in WS along various roads only served by one route, allowing for KCM to electrify most of the WS network while running wire along a small fraction. Wiring Lake City Way may allow for something simillar for bringing trolley buses to NE Seattle.
They could also charge express alongside the non-express routes where they overlap, for example the 5 & 16 sharing wire along Phinney Ridge but no need to add wire in Fremont or along Aurora, or the 106 leveraging where it overlaps with the 7.
(pg 15 was a handy map I used to compare the current trolley map against the SeattleTransitMap) https://metro.kingcounty.gov/up/projects/pdf/Metro_TB_20110527_Final_LowRes.pdf
I think Metro (with the cooperation of SDOT) should definitely explore this. I really think there are three things that could happen:
1) More of the frequent routes under wire (e. g. the 48).
2) More routes under wire for a period of their trip.
3) Battery buses.
It may be that with enough of 1 and 2 we don’t need 3. I’m skeptical. But it certainly stands to reason that investing in 2 could reduce the need to invest in 3. It also stands to reason that it could be a better value. Both require a transition and plenty of infrastructure, but we have a head start with trolleys.
There are other benefits. Right now Metro is reluctant to run the trolleys unless they are under wire. This means even fairly temporary changes (such as an extension) have to wait for wire, instead of happening sooner. If it was common to run trolleys that way, then it would be easier to make those sorts of changes.
It might help with maintenance. My understanding is that they basically shut down the trolleys on weekends, and work on the trolleys and wires. Finding diesel buses to run those routes is not difficult, because on weekends we don’t run the peak-hour express buses. But as we transition to a more 24-7 system, we may not have those extra buses. Thus doing that sort of thing might require buying extra buses (which increases the cost). In contrast, I could see maintenance taking place in rotating sections. For example, they could work on the western part of the 44, knowing that the bus can run on that section (and get back to the wire) quite easily. The maintenance would be more geared towards sections, as opposed to the entire system.
Again, I have no idea if this is the cheapest or best option. But I do think it should be considered. Most cities don’t have the kind of existing infrastructure we have when it comes to trolleys. We should maximize it, and take advantage of advancements of it.
I’m not sure if this has been mentioned on this blog before, but someone at KCM has been working on a trolleybus expansion study for some time. The Zero Emissions Transition Plan last May, included the arrival of 30 additional trolleybuses in 2027, plus retrofitting better/longer range batteries at mid life. But the project still seems to be ongoing so hopefully the end result would be a greater expansion than just 30.
Metro/SDOT are already planning to electrify the 48. The missing wire is a 1-mile gap between John Street and Jackson Street. The 23rd Avenue renovation included hooks for trolley wire to be attached to. The wiring got deferred due to the recession and the overoptimistic budgeting with Move Seattle. Move Seattle was going to upgrade the 48 to RapidRide, but like musical chairs it didn’t have enough money to upgrade all planned routes. So as soon as they’re in a position to expand the trolley network, the 48 will be first.
I’m not really a transit guy, (other than riding) but I do understand commercial construction pretty well. There’s a rule about most commercial construction that hasn’t been brought but is really important in urban growth and planning. It’s more important than zoning actually.
Almost all commercial buildings are purpose built and when they’ve served that purpose, they are trash.
Big retailers, (sporting goods, electronics, clothing) look at the what is inside the store as a product. The building around it is just a box, like a shoe box. Take the shoes out, the box is garbage. So if a big retailer, say J-Mart, sets up a store someplace and decides it wants to move after 10 years, J-Mart moves. The empty building (the box)? That’s just trash. All the big retailers want their own custom built boxes, not J-Mart’s old box. Add to this that the fact that the systems life (electrical, HVAC, plumbing) all die at 40 years or less in a box store.
The sheer amount old box stores in the USA is a big problem for urban planners.
Office space is much the same way. It’s build for office workers and nothing else If the office workers leave, the buildings are just empty boxes. These buildings are made of concrete and steel and they’re damn near impossible to renovate into housing. There’s just no way on earth to turn half the office space in Seattle into housing, the money just isn’t there. First there’s the worth of the building (that might come down), add the remodel costs ($500 a square ft) than factor in the long term building upkeep and utilities and maybe richest 10% could afford it…. and it’s a free market where the richest 10% will not live in some washed up office building.
What’s all this mean to transit? Urban planning? Everything. More than any zoning changes, more than anything Sound Transit is building. I mean everything. There’s not much since is planning anything in the next 3-5 years until we really know what’s really up work with from home and online retail.
Obviously there certainly can be issues. Some buildings are not ideal. However, there are places where office to residential happens. This article examines two:
Obviously one doesn’t just flip a switch and move plumbing to create kitchens and bathrooms.
Views on 5th in Olympia took some years to convert from a derelict office building, but seems to have turned out well, so even in Washington such structure conversions can happen.
I’ve been reading that Downtown Seattle again has a shortage of hotel rooms too. I could see that it could be lucrative to convert some office buildings to hotels.
How in the world does a conversion from office to residential cost $500 per square foot? I have seen that figure (I think it was $300 actually) bandied about ever since it was mentioned in the New York Times, from some Moody’s analysis. I don’t buy it off of the smell test, but I haven’t looked into the methodology.
Well, office buildings are concrete and steel. Those are tough materials to remodel with. The things that cost the most money in building homes (or remodeling) are the HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems. Retrofitting those though concrete isn’t easy or cheap.
If you could remodel an office building for $300 a square ft, and to be fair there are people looking at this night and day, very smart, driven people, so maybe less that $500 a square foot will happen. So let’s say $300 a square foot is the reality of a project. So the cost per unit (1000 sq ft) would be….
$300,000 for the remodel
The percentage of debt the against the building for a 1000 square feet.
The percentage of upkeep on the building for 1000 square feet.
Add that up and roll the grand total for all of this into a 30 year mortgage…. and add a monthly HOA fee of at least $1000 on the top of that. Can you pay for this? How many other people can pay for this in Seattle? I’m not saying office buildings can’t be, or won’t be converted to housing… a select number will be (with great fanfare I’d guess). But those will be big dollar properties with views for the well heeled. There’s so much “B-class” office space in greater Seattle that doesn’t have any view that no one is going to convert to housing.. right next to the empty Best Buy building that has no use for either.
There’s been a lot of talk about “the missing middle” housing in Seattle and from strictly a construction point of view… it makes sense. There are old wood frame, brick exterior apartment buildings all over town and those can remodeled endlessly at a reasonable cost. Concrete buildings? Not so much. I’ve worked on both. Building new wood framed 4 or 6 unit buildings actually pencils out better than retrofitting an 20 story office building.
The foundation of America is a stick built wood home with a 30 year mortgage. This is what drives the country, the American Dream. I’d be open to looking at something to replace this…. but so far nothing has come close to the Champion. Seattle is in a weird spot right now with a glut of smart, hard working folks in their 30s and 40s who have no path to home ownership. I think it’s causing political instability and a pessimistic mood in general. And a plethora of arm chair urban planner and transit junkies.
I think tacomee makes a lot of good points:
1. If you look at my post summarizing the Times’ article 42 buildings in 2022 were converted from office to another use, 40% of that other use multi-family. That is 17 office buildings/year converted to housing. I wonder how many of those were tall modern steel and glass buildings.
2. Office towers were not built for housing. The key difference is people living in a building sleep at night, with kids. Fire suppression, ingress/egress, individual utilities and heating, and plumbing that accommodates kitchens and baths in every unit is very expensive to retrofit. Rental housing also comes with a lot of restrictions on evictions.
3. Many office towers are tall and thin and do not work well for housing.
4. Just the cost to “build out” each new unit would be around $400 to $500sf/unit including soundproof walls, appliances, fixtures, high end flooring, residential lighting, cabinets, counters etc. Think remodeling a SFH in Clyde Hill which runs around $400 to $500/sf even though the land and house are not part of the remodel cost, except major remodels do usually require bringing everything up to code. WA State adopted the International Building Code in Feb. 2021 and any office tower remodeled to housing would need to meet this code.
5. Probably the best point tacomee makes is the 10% who could afford one of these units and the HOA fees are living in SFH’s in Medina, Laurelhurst, Mercer Island, Clyde Hill, Yarrow and Hunts Point, et al. Multi-family housing almost anywhere, even in the heart of downtown Bellevue, has a hard time competing with this demographic. Downtown Seattle living is not attractive to this demographic that thinks Seattle is Sodom and Gomorrah, or who have kids. I don’t think there is a single K-12 public school in downtown Seattle because so many urban Seattleites don’t have kids and are kid unfriendly.
6. Building owners would be taking a huge hit per sf going from office to housing, which could violate the terms of the construction loan.
7. Property owners would want a large portion of pre-sells because the risk and unknowns are so great.
8. There is probably no room for any kind of affordable housing unless a city pays market rate including HOA. A city could not negotiate for affordable housing set asides for additional height because the building is already built. Developers prefer paying a fee in lieu of rather than mixing market rate and affordable clients, but hate doing so.
9. Even steel and glass buildings “die”. They replaced older concrete buildings which are cheap to demolish. Old steel and glass buildings are as expensive to take down as put up, and just as expensive to update. In the past, in older cities, developers move on to new locations, but those are running out. The older buildings became class B and C pre-pandemic, but today are vacant for any price, and are referred to as “orphan space”.
I remember around 15 years ago some flippers from San Francisco bought the Smith Tower financed by a huge German bank when lending in Seattle was easy. They were going to turn the tower floors into single unit condos and then flip the building. The flippers had no idea how to manage and run a large office tower and so it went to s&%t, they emptied out as many tower floors as they could, maintenance and cleaning were cut, they went bankrupt, and the German Bank took a bath when they sold to CB properties with hardly any tenants, which does know how to run and manage an office tower, a brutal job with low margins. It took years for CB to bring the building back.
The units were going to be very expensive. But the building is in a marginal part of the city even in 2012 or so which turned of women who feel like prisoners at night like in Belltown, there are no decks, there is no onsite parking, the elevator would open directly into the unit, the elevators are very slow, the windows are single paned and historical, the HVAC system sucks, the plumbing would need to be redone from the ground up, and the concrete structure made remodeling the floors for housing nearly impossible so a unit might only have one bedroom.
So don’t hold your breath waiting for office conversions to save downtown cores, even downtown cores that are vibrant and safe. I think a more likely scenario is property owners default and walk away (since the LLC shields their personal assets). A city like Seattle has much easier sites to develop for downtown residential towers, except that development is dead right now for market reasons, and because of the atmosphere in downtown Seattle. No one wants to visit downtown Seattle let alone live there.
It is pretty to think conversion would revitalize downtown cores, even ones like Seattle, and at the same time resolve the housing and affordable housing issues like chairs and tables will revitalize 3rd Ave., but it ain’t going to happen because there is no money in it, which was tacomee’s main point because he understands that business, and right now there is not money in any large-scale development except maybe Miami.
Remains to be seen Daniel, but all those residential high rises going up in downtown Bellevue are probably going to be occupied by people who could afford houses in Medina or Mercer Island, many of whom will have families.
For a country that is so set against living in high rises, we seem to have a lot of our most valuable real estate concentrated in residential high rises.
“Remains to be seen Daniel, but all those residential high rises going up in downtown Bellevue are probably going to be occupied by people who could afford houses in Medina or Mercer Island, many of whom will have families. For a country that is so set against living in high rises, we seem to have a lot of our most valuable real estate concentrated in residential high rises.”
I am not sure that is correct Brandon. The average median price for a SFH, not on the water, in West Bellevue, is around $5 million. I don’t think many of the new condos, even on Bellevue Way, will cost close to $5 million. I will also be interested to see how many of those high rises are postponed, and how many buildings really include housing in areas like The Spring Dist. or Wilburton.
I also don’t see a lot of these new condos housing kids. Different demographic. Mercer Island has condos that house families in the town center, but those are mostly older and more affordable rentals that attract families that want access to the school dist., especially the highly funded special needs program. Unfortunately, many of these will likely be replaced by new construction over the next decade with taller buildings and smaller units to meet GMPC housing targets. Or assisted living is big on MI because MI is safe.
Some very dense cities with very high AMI’s have expensive condos, but Seattle/eastside SFH prices in the nice neighborhoods are about as expensive as any condo in the U.S. except maybe a penthouse in NY. What was really expensive was office towers, but that is now changing.
I don’t think the U.S. is set against living in high rises, most just prefer a SFH, especially if you have kids or a dog. The point is to have choices. If you want to live in a very tall high rise I support that.
I could definitely see living in a swanky condo high up with a deck and view and lots of amenities in a safe and vibrant city once the kids are truly gone, but alas my wife does not share that vision, and once you get married you learn the wife usually gets to choose the “vision”, which is how I ended up on MI to begin with.
Larger cities are converting offices to housing, so it can happen. I’d see downtown Seattle doing a couple buildings at a time, not dozens of buildings all at once. Some buildings are more convertable, some more desirable, and some owners are more willing to try new things. The slower pace will give time to see how well the first conversions go and how quickly they fill up.
There isn’t any way to really do many buildings at a time because there’s a limited work force for this sort of thing. It’s a lot harder than chopping an old house into a duplex. One of the big problems will be paying engineers big money on the front end… before the final numbers are really even known.
The good news is that this sort of project gets easier with every building…..
I read that article in the NYT and was puzzled by it. I got the impression that they were using costs of converting office buildings into luxury condos and not just ordinary units. I’ve been in some conversions in Vancouver, and they are quite pleasant. The advantage of office buildings is that they have high ceilings and large spans, so you have more room to manoeuvre to fit in plumbing and electrical. Here are two in Vancouver that seem quite successful:
“I got the impression that they were using costs of converting office buildings into luxury condos and not just ordinary units”
When have developers built anything less than luxury units in the past few decades?
If Seattle is really invested in making downtown more vibrant and making the billions already invested in transit useful, the first step should be starting a charter school. Remodel some of the empty office space into classroom space and have the Gates Foundation run a top end quasi private prep school (open to the top students from all over the city… free of cost). Auto enrollment for any family living downtown as this would be their “home school”.
After that rebuild freeway park (already happening!) and tear down some crap to build another park somewhere downtown. Is Seattle ready to buy an empty building and tear it down? The economic reality is the City might be better off taking a hit on demolition to use the space for something else. The political reality is the City hopes, (in vain) that some other use will be found for the building as it sits empty for the next 30 years. Look at the mess downtowns in the Rust Belt are.
Is a demolition tax in the future or all commercial buildings in Greater Seattle? I’d support it.
Seattle actually had to close city park next to the courthouse due to crime and tents. Harrell has been working hard to remove the tents and homeless from residential parks because that was the number one demand from his voters in the election. I doubt that at this point creating more park space downtown is high on his list with Seattle looking at a $250 million budget deficit in 2023 and likely to be down 500 police officers by the end of 2023. At any rate, if I were mayor I would want to see how the waterfront park turns out first, and whether it becomes a magnate for crime and homeless or for shoppers and diners.
I think Seattle is in a bind with the empty office towers downtown that were cash cows when it came to tax revenue. No one will want to spend the money to convert or tear down the buildings. Cheaper to walk away with the tax deduction.
The first stages were shock and disorganization, then there was denial, the commuters will return, or they will be forced to return (ideally on transit). Now we are entering depression and anxiety in 2023 with the huge budget deficits looming on the horizon. Next is aggression and anger at the folks who don’t want to go downtown (and don’t want to leave their house to go anywhere). Then there will be acceptance, except like death there is no option for empty office towers.
The reason Seattle does not want to demolish the office towers is the same reason SeaTac doesn’t want to develop all those airport parking lots: tax revenue with almost no social costs. Those office towers generated huge sales and property and B&O tax revenue (and construction sales tax when being built) and funded restaurants and retail with workers who required almost no social costs and paid for most of transit. Just like SeaTac does not want to replace high tax revenue airport parking lots with no social costs with affordable housing with huge social costs for a city like SeaTac.
A park is pretty, and nice if usable and safe, but it generates no tax revenue.
I do like your idea about using one of the office towers for a school, except how many downtown Seattleites have school age kids? I think in 2019 Seattle had the third lowest kid ratio throughout the entire city of any city in the U.S. after a minor baby boom https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/kids-making-a-comeback-more-than-100000-under-18-in-seattle-for-the-first-time-in-50-years/#:~:text=Even%20with%20the%20recent%2C%20modest%20increase%20in%20kids,and%20Boston%20are%20the%20two%20cities%20slightly%20lower. Post pandemic a lot of those Millennial parents and parents-to-be left Seattle. Urbanists are not keen on kids.
Ultimately, having downtown living more friendly for parents with kids is a good thing. Adding a school downtown is one way to help achieve that. In the short term, you can make the enrollment work out by bringing in kids from adjacent neighborhoods, if downtown itself doesn’t have enough parents.
But to say urban living is not for families with kids, therefore downtown can’t have any schools, therefore families with kids don’t want to live downtown… that’s just circular logic that perpetuates the status quo.
Yeah, like I lived in Central Florence and there were plenty of families living in the city center. It had a lot of nice amenities for living there. Along with short bus rides to the bigger rec centers in the city. Like the football clubs for kids. Along with having plenty of large squares for people to hang out with and watch their children play.
“But to say urban living is not for families with kids, therefore downtown can’t have any schools, therefore families with kids don’t want to live downtown… that’s just circular logic that perpetuates the status quo.”
I didn’t say that asdf2. I said that today there is no public K-12 school downtown which suggests to me at least Seattleites living downtown don’t have a lot of school age kids (and 22.5% of all Seattle parents send their kids to private school), or Seattleites who do have kids don’t want to live downtown or there would be a school, and that Seattle in 2019 after a minor baby boom had the third lowest ratio of kids to residents than any other U.S. city.
Do I think post pandemic more parents want to live or are living downtown with kids? No. So the status quo is the status quo.
Tacomee actually suggested opening a magnate public school downtown to attract kids who do not live downtown in order to fill the enrollment, which means the parents of those kids obviously don’t want to live downtown, which I guess is circular logic on their part: their kids have to bus to downtown to attend a magnate school because their parents don’t want to live downtown.
My guess is we won’t see any public school downtown because parents usually like their kids to go to school closest to home, and don’t want them busing along 3rd Ave. to downtown to go to school in a converted office tower. Sounds pretty awful for the kids to me.
I don’t think families with kids is what will revitalize the office towers downtown or downtown itself. The adults are going to have to want to live downtown and revitalize it.
Actually a downtown school would just be the first part of a cradle to grave education system…. run by the Gates Foundation, and yes, Bill likely would spend the money on a high school… and elementary and middle school…. quality pre-school and an even a community collage…. and *gasp* a university even. The facts are the dude has the money, he loves Seattle and this sort of investment is possible. This sort of thing would bring folks downtown… and make downtown more livable. Office to classroom is a way cheaper remodel than offices to apartments. Of course online is the future of education… but it needs a hub, world class facilities, to do that. Downtown is wired for that too.
Of course the Seattle School Board and UW will have to just go f*** themselves because the Gates Foundation has made it pretty clear they have zero interest in getting sucked down in Seattle Leftwing politics.
The big problem with downtown is how many self proclaimed “stakeholders” there are and how little money (or anything else) they bring to the party. The City can clean up the homeless circus on 3rd Ave, or let the whole place turn into a dump. I’m guessing dump for political reasons. There isn’t a cheap or easy way out of this. I can’t imagine City Council signing long term leases on office space and turning them over to Gates people without strings for a charter school.
“there is no public K-12 school downtown which suggests to me at least Seattleites living downtown don’t have a lot of school age kids”
That’s like saying a bus route doesn’t need to be frequent because it’s not frequent now. Families with children have been moving to downtown in the past decade. There have been articles about how downtown/SLU need a school because of the number of children there, and about how Vancouver’s highrise neighborhoods have schools, supermarkets, and other everyday amenities that downtown Seattle lacks. I think a school did open up somewhere but I don’t know any more about it.
“the first step should be starting a charter school. Remodel some of the empty office space into classroom space and have the Gates Foundation run a top end quasi private prep school”
“Tacomee actually suggested opening a magnate public school downtown”
He suggested a charter school. We don’t need to gut public schools to channel public money to corporations. I’m also not sure that an elite prep school is compatible with “auto enrolling every child downtown”.
Yeah, I’m with Mike. There is this thing called “inertia”. The reason there aren’t many public schools downtown is because there were relatively few people living downtown until recently. So these folks go to nearby schools, like Lowell, Meany and Garfield. If you look at the borders, there is nothing that strange about the lack of a downtown school.
For example, look at the high school borders: https://www.seattleschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/SPSD_B_AAHS_2022.pdf. Downtown Seattle is within the borders of Garfield, and is actually closer to the school than Montlake. What’s weird is not the distance to downtown, but that Ballard and Lincoln have to stretch so far south to cover Magnolia and Uptown. That’s because Queen Anne High School shut down in 1981. I’m sure they wish they had the school back again, as plenty of kids would go there now.
Building a new school is expensive. The district has been looking at adding a new school downtown for years (https://www.sightline.org/2014/11/06/a-missed-opportunity-for-seattles-downtown-school/). Notice that this article doesn’t guess as to whether there are actually kids downtown. It looks at census data.
Which is what anyone should do instead of theorizing about such things. Looking at schools is interesting, but if you are really interested in whether there are kids downtown, you can just look at the census data. Here is the census map: https://mtgis-portal.geo.census.gov/arcgis/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=2566121a73de463995ed2b2fd7ff6eb7. Select “Population 18 and Over”. Zoom in to downtown Seattle. Select a census block. It lists total population as well population 18 and over. Just do the math. My estimate is over 1,000 kids “downtown” (defined as west of I-5, south of Denny, north of Yesler). More if you have a more liberal definition of “downtown”. Basically there are a lot more people living downtown than in years past, and many of those people are under 18. (Oh ,and since the count took place during the pandemic it probably undercounted both adults and children in the city.)
Seattle is in the middle of building a large park on the waterfront, which is supposed to be Seattle’s “living room”. Let’s see how that one turns out before building another.
And to anybody who thinks the City’s best high school shouldn’t be downtown.
Go to Europe. The best (and often really old) school…is in the middle of the City.
If it’s not possible for a high school to thrive downtown…. why on earth has Seattle spend billions building a subway and whole transit system centered on downtown? Do you just want to blow up Sound Transit? I think it’s fair enough question at this point. Spend a billion tunneling under a neighborhood you wouldn’t send you kids to? That’s not going to work long term.
Even with it’s funk-ass transit, downtown Tacoma has more public assets in it’s downtown than Seattle per capita.
I don’t believe there is a right answer here… but man! You can’t walk both sides of the fence. Pick a side, do the work, live with the consequences. Pro Sound Transit–Pro downtown … or…….Kill off Sound Transit and work on local neighborhood plans.
O’Dea high school is downtown. Seems like that the equivalent to whatever fancy high school is in European city centers
A lot of schools left Downtowns because panels declared that the campus sizes were too small. It seems a rather arbitrary set of standards that assume that all schools should have similar acreage no matter what the urban or suburban or rural setting is.
Here are California’s: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/sf/guideschoolsite.asp#Table3
There have been over a century of excellent small-site schools in urban America. The standards are stupid and anti-urban. No one dares to revisit them.
Lakeside has opened “The Downtown School” precisely because there are affluent residents living in apartments and condos downtown who have kids. Lakeside is arguably one of the preeminent schools in the state and found it a worthwhile investment to spend millions of dollars on a second campus attractive to families in the central part of the city.. There’s also demand for public education downtown which is why the school district has spent years trying to lock in a property in the downtown area for k-5 education. The percentage of families with kids downtown over the past decade has grown faster than any other district in the city. While the numbers aren’t huge, it’s incentive enough for the district to allocate resources to continue looking.
As an aside, the French immersion school on Mercer island is relocating to Seattle just south of I-90 near the future Junkins Park station. Interesting that they are investing $70m to develop a new campus.
I should add that many states will not grant construction bond loans to school districts who propose campus sizes that don’t meet their standards. That’s a reason why most urban schools being built are private.
Stuyvesant, NYCs premier magnate, is downtown.
I would call ODea First Hill. Center school and Seattle Prep are close as well. But none are technically in what I would call the core.
Stuyvesant is in Manhattan but is in neither Midtown nor Downtown; it is in Battery Park City.
Battery Park City IS downtown, just on the water. I worked in the Trade Centers, and walked there for lunch.
It was in the East Village when my buddies went to school there.
The fact that they were able to build an entirely new one, in downtown Manhattan in the 90s, shows what is possible.
Cool, and when I worked downtown I would walk to First Hill for lunch.
Battery Park City & East Village are in the broader urban core of Manhattan, just like First Hill is for Seattle. Neither are in CBDs. Not sure how you can call one ‘downtown’ and not the other, in either a technical or colloquial use of the word.
Look at a map. Battery Park City is 2 blocks from ground zero.
This is a stupid conversation.
“why on earth has Seattle spend billions building a subway and whole transit system centered on downtown?”
Because the region’s communities and travel patterns are a T shape centered on downtown. Downtown is the single largest destination. Cities around the world center their transit network on downtown. In Seattle it’s especially acute because if you’re going between the north end and the south end you have to pass through narrow central Seattle between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.
Random question…the escalators at Roosevelt Station (the working ones anyway) are stuck in a state of perpetual squeakiness. Is there no way of fixing this? Is it a concerning problem or just considered to be a minor nuisance problem? I was wondering if it might indicate a safety concern, or just make people less likely to go to the station. Either way I hope ST is able to desqueak the station.
It might be time to think about cutting Sounder North service when Lynwood Link opens and running express buses to intercept. Sounder North definitely doesn’t seem worth it once Link starts sapping ridership.
This is not a new discussion. In 2021 Mayor Durkan proposed placing a public elementary school downtown, and gave the school dist. first dibs on the entrance to the Battery Street Tunnel for a school. Opponents without kids wanted the site to become a park. (Welcome to Seattle politics). One issue school board candidate Vivian Song Maritz raised in the article is whether the studios and one-bedroom apartments the city favors disfavored families with school age children. An urban planner interviewed felt any vibrant downtown needed an elementary school.
The demographics for downtown are interesting. They are mostly young, white collar, and childless. Nearly half live alone and that percentage continues to increase. http://clerk.seattle.gov/~ordpics/115018_Doc%203%20-%20Community%20Profile%20-%20Housing%20Market%20Analysis.htm In another post I noted Seattle has the third lowest percentage of kids in the U.S., but that isn’t really surprising considering the eastside is made for kids.
There are other considerations too. For example, 22.5% of Seattle parents send their K-12 kids to private school, second highest in the U.S. after San Francisco, and the demographic downtown is wealthy enough to afford private schools. Not surprisingly Lakeside, one of the most expensive private schools, has a satellite downtown. At the same time enrollment in Seattle public schools (and all public schools) post pandemic is declining. https://www.king5.com/article/news/education/parents-seattle-public-schools-enrollment-impact-quality-education/281-9c9700b7-0133-4b72-bb95-761452b22fb6
Finally, there is the distinction between children and school age children. Ross calculates 1000 people under 18 in the downtown zone, but K-12 children range in age from 5-18. It is very common for a young professional couple to continue to live downtown while their child is younger than five, but to move outside the downtown when their child is approaching school age. When you have your first child you think they will adapt to your adult lifestyle. By the time you have had your second you have adapted to their lifestyle, and your best friends are now the parents of their best friends rather than the other way around, and elementary schools, at least on the eastside, are run like the military. You will adapt, not them.
I don’t think however this is an indictment of downtown Seattle. Al thinks minimum school size is “anti-urban”. Actually, the goal is pro-equity, because poor and urban kids need as much outside play space as wealthy suburban kids, except the land is much more limited. Plus many states disfavor schools with more than one story because they are more expensive to build (at least in suburbia where the school dist. has acres of open land) and they are less safe in an earthquake.
I went to kindergarten at Stevens public school, and then K-5 at St. Joseph. Back then parents would allow their children to walk to school. Can you imagine allowing a kid to walk around downtown Seattle today. Adults are not safe. Our “playground” at St. Joseph was a huge, paved area with a chain link fence, not unlike a huge parking lot. All I ever saw from home to school, at school, and back home was concrete. It was awful. When I moved to Mercer Island in 1970 the difference was dramatic. Suburban school districts had allocated their land before the huge migration beginning in the 1970 and so had acres of open land and space (some of which they have unwisely sold off over the years), and tons of parking and parking is critical if you want to raise a kid. An urban school cannot compete with that.
If you told me Mercer Island does not have a vibrant retail or restaurant scene I would not take that as an indictment of MI. That is not its purpose. I can’t imagine raising a kid in a downtown urban area, even if safe, unless I had to. At the same time if I want to go out for a night on the town, or my son does, you don’t do it on MI. It is unfair to the kid to force them to live in a concrete prison in an urban area, because kids thrive with open and green spaces, especially before H.S.
Downtown Seattle’s problems have more to do with the loss of the non-resident work commuter, and the perception of a lack of safety, which have decimated retail and restaurants, which is the purpose of a downtown core. I don’t think very expensive and difficult parking has helped when the rest of the region has free parking. I think it would be a mistake for any parent to try and raise a child in downtown Seattle (and don’t think downtown Bellevue is a good place either) if they have the means to not do so, and most do. You don’t see any public schools in downtown Bellevue, for a good reason. The poor in Seattle tend to not live downtown but in surrounding neighborhoods.
I suppose having a well rated and well attended K-12 school in an urban area is a sign the area is very vibrant, and very dense, and has many full-time residents living there rather than work commuters, but Seattle is a long way from that today. Even when it was vibrant around 10 years ago it still made little sense to raise a child downtown. When you have a child you have made sacrifices, and one of those is the adult vibrancy of a downtown. Slowly you get used to it, sort of, but that is the cost of a child or two.
Some on this blog scoff at work commuters or retail vibrancy downtown. In one way their only relevance is tax revenue. Seattle is a very expensive progressive city to run because it has most of the social needs. Next year’s budget will likely require $250 million in cuts, with another $250 million the next year. If there is one thing out of city commuters (and tourists) are good for is bringing in lots of money into Seattle with no social costs. Easy money, easy jobs, sad when it leaves.
“poor and urban kids need as much outside play space as wealthy suburban kids”
They need to be able to walk to school too. Too often these decisions get made in a vacuum: schools need a full-sized stadium, but then the school is so isolated all the students need to take a school bus or be driven.
Mike, I was explaining state and federal requirements on the amount of land and space required for a school and certain number of students so poor kids are not disadvantaged. Walking to school is not a consideration.
The main factors that determine whether a kid can, or the parents will allow, them to walk to school are: 1. age; 2. distance; 3. safety. Until a certain age no parent will allow a kid to walk alone to school. If the distance is too great then walking is not feasible, although biking might be. If safety is an issue at any age walking is out of the question. So walking to an urban school could be out of the question no matter how close the kid lives to the school. I know dog owners who live in Seattle who won’t let their dog outside alone.
I don’t know what Mike has against school buses. He extolls the virtue of Metro buses as part of a “walkable” city. Dedicated school buses are fairly direct and 100% safe from outsiders (although most parents wait for the bus with their kids until middle school when that is not cool, as is having mom drive you to school at that stage), and talk about mass transit: each bus is packed. Even then a lot of mothers where I live like to drive their elementary kids to school and back. Telling them not to is pointless. They tend to ignore advice about kids from those without kids (and any advice about their kids in general).
On the eastside the land for the stadium was reserved at the same time the land for the school was reserved, and all the other ballfields and playgrounds. Land was cheap when the cities were first incorporated and there were few citizens so school districts own huge amounts of land. No one plans to change their zoning so their kid can walk to school.
Some kids live close enough to walk, some don’t, but in H.S. you have a driver’s license. Some families I know consider how close a school is to a school when buying a house (mostly elementary), but that changes from elementary to middle to H.S. Most parents I know are not comfortable allowing their kid to walk to school alone until around 11-12 at the earliest, even on MI. They would never, ever, ever allow their kid to walk around Seattle alone.
Once a kid hits high school style trumps at all. They refuse to take a school bus, which is why MI got rid of H.S. buses. School buses are for little kids.
There is no intra-Island Metro service for high schoolers even though they get an ORCA card. Some might walk to H.S. But you are not cool if you don’t drive a car. Any car is better than no car. At the H.S. parking becomes the main currency. You need a car if you want a girlfriend, and about this age girlfriends and boyfriends (and hair, lots and lots of hair) become the most important thing in the world. An ORCA card is not going to cut it. It is a good first lesson in life for a young man. As the famous rap song by Young MC states:
“Got no money and you got no car
Then you got no woman and there you are… bust a move”.
Most parents I know are not comfortable allowing their kid to walk to school alone until around 11-12 at the earliest, even on MI. They would never, ever, ever allow their kid to walk around Seattle alone.
Except not all parents are like that. Walk around Seattle when school gets out and you can see lots and lots of kids walking around without any adults. Even in Mercer Island I’m guessing there are those who have a better handle on the risks. I’m no expert, but Mercer Island — at least most of it — does not seem much riskier than most of Seattle. There are fast, dangerous streets — where accidents are common — and much slower streets. Look both ways, cross at the crosswalk, etc. and you are fine.
A lot of what you you have written assumes a very suburban, car-centered approach to life. For example:
in H.S. you have a driver’s license … Once a kid hits high school style trumps at all. They refuse to take a school bus … you are not cool if you don’t drive a car. Any car is better than no car. At the H.S. parking becomes the main currency. You need a car if you want a girlfriend, and about this age girlfriends and boyfriends (and hair, lots and lots of hair) become the most important thing in the world. An ORCA card is not going to cut it. It is a good first lesson in life for a young man.
With all due respect there are plenty of young people who would find such writing hilarious. They would mock it the way they mock assumptions about social media (“so you kids must really be into Facebook, right?”). I hate to break it to you gramps, but you are completely out of touch. Which is not to say that there aren’t some young people who feel that way, but once you get into the city, certainly, those types of opinions are more common amongst the old.
Ross, I just had two kids graduate from H.S. and both are living at home during the holidays. I think I have a pretty good idea how kids 18-21 think, considering I had around 25 at my house last Saturday night. How did they get there? How do you think?
Do you watch movies or tv or social media? Do you interact with anyone under 40? How many times do you see the boy take the pretty girl out on a bus?
This isn’t NY city. Go to LA. Phoenix. Atlanta. Miami. San Diego. Dallas.
Houston. You name it. It is a car culture, including in Seattle where residents own 460,000 of the darn things. An entire American mythology is built around the car, mostly male oriented, and on tv they have car auctions for cars that go for millions of dollars. Take a look outside at I-5 at the number of cars. Who didn’t have a poster of a Countach on their wall in middle or H.S. and Farraw Faucet. Or did you have a poster of a bus?
And you call me gramps posting on a transit blog no one under 60 posts on. Come on dude, you have absolutely no idea how young people think. I hardly know myself except I just finished 21 years living with two of them. But at least I don’t pretend “I am down with it”. One thing you are not Ross is hip, but neither am I.
“I was explaining state and federal requirements on the amount of land and space required for a school and certain number of students so poor kids are not disadvantaged.”
Why do those requirements exist? They probably assumed everyone would drive, and created schools that’s hard to get to and with a large energy footprint forever.
“Until a certain age no parent will allow a kid to walk alone to school.”
I walked to my elementary school from first grade. I took Metro across town to a junior high and high school. I started taking the bus to Seattle alone as soon as it occurred to me to, which may have been 8th or 9th grade. At the time downtown Seattle was decaying similar to now. I spent most of the time in the U-District but I transferred downtown and went to the downtown library or my friend’s house on the top of Queen Anne, and my parents were never bothered about it.
“I don’t know what Mike has against school buses. He extolls the virtue of Metro buses as part of a “walkable” city.”
Design things first to be walkable, then add transit for those who still can’t walk to them. Don’t design buildings that nobody can walk to. Don’t put junior high and high schools deep in single-family areas on streets without frequent transit. School buses have a place, but don’t design schools or neighborhoods so that they’re excessively needed. High schoolers also leave during the day to work, attend college classes, or because their last class ends early.
Walkability of schools is important. Even children who too young to walk to school alone can and do walk to school with their parents. Yes, this is done by real families, and I see parents walking their kids to school all the time on my way to work. Walking to school gives the kids exercise they wouldn’t otherwise get, and gives parents the confidence to eventually trust them to walk places independently when they get older.
School buses work, but they definitely have their downsides. While they do guarantee nearly every student a one-seat ride between home and school, this one-seat ride is often extremely circuitous, to the point where it’s actually slower than competing public transit routes, even if the public transit option requires a transfer. And, then there’s reliability. Public buses are backed by phone apps providing real-time status updates. School buses aren’t. Public buses run every 10-15 minutes, so if one of them doesn’t show, you can take the next one. School buses aren’t. Even growing up in Houston around the year 2000, I often commuted to high school in public buses instead of school buses because I could leave home a few minutes later and have better reliability (school buses did fare somewhat better for the afternoon commute, being all lined up by the school at dismissal time, so I would often take the public bus to school in the morning and the yellow school bus back).
Calling people who don’t have a car as basically losers who won’t ever get a boyfriend/girlfriend because they ride transit isnt true in my experience.
I went to HS in Tacoma a decade ago and no one ever gave a flip about that when dating. And is still the same in speaking with my own cousins who are currently going through HS up in Whidbey Island. What mattered was if you clicked personality wise, the car was considered a bonus and nothing more.
I know plenty of HS aged folks who ride transit either as a matter of convenience or necessity. Along with many who would perfer better transit because there are many young people who are exposed to climate change advocacy nowadays than I ever was. And none of their peers look down upon them for it. People use whatever is the most convenient means to get them from a to b.
“How many times do you see the boy take the pretty girl out on a bus?”
Plenty of times in real life both here and abroad.
“And you call me gramps posting on a transit blog no one under 60 posts on”
I’m 28, ride transit everyday since HS, and I post on here regularly. We have a wide breath of voices and opinions here from young folks like me who are just young professionals or college students to retired KCM bus drivers and everyone in-between. People care about this stuff because it affects them either directly or indirectly. So no this isn’t an old people site like you’re implying. This stuff affects everyone, young or old.
I notice some of the commenters who are now saying walkability to school is important, said in the past that school kids need Via to drive them from home to Link stations because it’s too dangerous for kids to walk in Seattle.
I can’t imagine raising a kid in a downtown urban area, even if safe, unless I had to.
I think by now people get that. We understand. You can’t imagine someone raising kids in downtown Seattle, which explains why you jumped to those ignorant assumptions. Fair enough. That is all well and good, but it doesn’t explain why you continue to make similar conclusions. Even when faced with contrarian facts, you stick with your prejudicial viewpoints.
There are plenty of school-age children downtown. You seem to disagree with that fact, even though we keep throwing numbers at you. For example, here is a pretty easy-to-read chart: https://www.theurbanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Screen-Shot-2015-02-28-at-10.56.31-PM.png. Math might not be your thing, so let me explain. Overall student enrollment in Seattle Public Schools is going up, and going up especially fast downtown. Your counter-argument is simply that you can’t imagine raising kids down there. Maybe the problem is not downtown Seattle, but your imagination.
“Math might not be your thing, so let me explain. Overall student enrollment in Seattle Public Schools is going up, and going up especially fast downtown. Your counter-argument is simply that you can’t imagine raising kids down there. Maybe the problem is not downtown Seattle, but your imagination.”
Did you fail to read this link in my prior post Ross? https://www.king5.com/article/news/education/parents-seattle-public-schools-enrollment-impact-quality-education/281-9c9700b7-0133-4b72-bb95-761452b22fb6
“In the 2019-2020 school year there were 53,630 students. The 2020-2021 school year saw 52,381 students, that’s 1,200 less than the previous year.”
“Predictions for the next several years show this drop as a trend.
“Seattle Public Schools (SPS) enrollment projections:
Maybe reading is not your thing.
Now, as I also posted enrollment in many public-school districts is declining post pandemic, not just Seattle.
Yes, having worked in downtown from 1990 through 2022, and seeing SDOT/DSA plans to “revitalize” 3rd Ave., I think if possible a child does better in a less urban and safer environment, at least until H.S., especially since I have experienced both. No doubt there are school age children in downtown; the question is where they go to school.
By the way I am confused by your link to a chart in the Urbanist: How can enrollment in downtown Seattle Public Schools be increasing if there are no public schools downtown (and population at least according to the school dist. is declining), which is the issue we were discussing, and why Durkan proposed placing an elementary school downtown (did you read that link as well https://www.kuow.org/stories/can-downtown-seattle-attract-families-the-big-question-behind-the-debate-around-a-new-school?).
Can you post the article that goes with the chart so I can see which schools you/the Urbanist are referring to as being “downtown”. All I can glean from the chart is “downtown” is any school “west of I-5”, and the date of the chart is not given. Maybe that is where you got confused and why your statement on school population is at odds with the data from the Seattle School Dist.
By the way I am confused by your link to a chart in the Urbanist: How can enrollment in downtown Seattle Public Schools be increasing if there are no public schools downtown
Because the students in downtown go to schools outside of downtown! Come on, I explained all that. They go to Lowell, Meany, Garfield or an alternative school. That is all explained on the Seattle Public School website I linked to.
Downtown is no different than other neighborhoods. There are no high schools in Magnolia or Queen Anne. Do you think there are no high school students in Magnolia or Queen Anne? Seriously? That is ridiculous. Those students — just like the those downtown — take a bus or walk to a school in a different neighborhood. It is that simple.
As for your chart, you are completely missing the point. The pandemic caused a reversal of trends within the city. Enrollment went down for the first time in a long time. That happened everywhere. But it doesn’t mean it will continue, and more to the point, it has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Long term SPS trends are completely irrelevant. The argument is about whether there are a significant number of school age children downtown. It is like you are going out of your way to obfuscate the argument instead of simply admitting that your assumption — based on your own biases — was wrong.
I present census data, and you think all those under 18 people must be toddlers. I present data from other sources — including from Seattle Public Schools — and you dispute that as well. Meanwhile, you don’t have a shred of evidence to support your case. You just “can’t imagine” raising school age children and so it blows your mind that they do. It is like you live in Phoenix and don’t believe that Seattle is a big city. “Why would so many people live in a place where it rains all the time?”
Who knows why, but they do. Lots of people live in Seattle, including a lot of school-age children who live downtown. This may be hard for you to wrap your head around, but it is a fact.
Ross, can you please post a link to The Urbanist article with the chart you linked to. I still can’t understand how you claim:
“Math might not be your thing, so let me explain. Overall student enrollment in Seattle Public Schools is going up, and going up especially fast downtown. Your counter-argument is simply that you can’t imagine raising kids down there. Maybe the problem is not downtown Seattle, but your imagination.”
Putting aside the gratuitous insult you don’t address the fact SPS student data and estimates directly contradict your statement, and the chart you post from The Urbanist.
Now you claim:
“Because the students in downtown go to schools outside of downtown! Come on, I explained all that. They go to Lowell, Meany, Garfield or an alternative school. That is all explained on the Seattle Public School website I linked to.”
But that is not what you and apparently The Urbanist stated. You emphatically stated: “Overall student enrollment in Seattle Public Schools is going up, and going up especially fast downtown.” How can student enrollment be “going up especially fast downtown” if as you now admit those kids are not going to school downtown, and the SPS is stating enrollment is going down? Now you are stating students in downtown go to schools outside of downtown. We already knew that. And student enrollment is declining throughout the SPS.
Next you post:
“As for your chart, you are completely missing the point. The pandemic caused a reversal of trends within the city. Enrollment went down for the first time in a long time. That happened everywhere. But it doesn’t mean it will continue, and more to the point, it has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Long term SPS trends are completely irrelevant.”
It isn’t my chart: those are the numbers and estimates from the SPS. I told you twice SPS was not the only school district to show a decline in enrollment during and after the pandemic. What in the world do you mean “Long term SPS trends are completely irrelevant” when we are talking about building a new school in downtown Seattle and enrollment is declining fairly dramatically? Long term enrollment trends right now are the major factor for every school dist. from MI to Seattle.
The rest of your post is just non-sensical.
Look, it happens. You made a major misstatement about SPS enrollment and enrollment trends based on an undated Urbanist chart without clarifying the area the Urbanist was referring to, or the date, failed to read my post with the actual SPS data, which was compounded by your gratuitous insult about my math skills. No math is necessary. Just read the SPS figures and estimates.
Sometimes it is just better to admit you made a misstatement of fact, should have read the post or done some research other than an undated Urbanist chart with no geographical coordinates that should have raised concerns because there are no “downtown” SPS K-12 schools, should avoid gratuitous insults in any case, and politely state what you were trying to state: you think a K-12 student can have as fulfilling an education in a downtown core, including Seattle, as in a suburban school district, or Seattle residential neighborhood, an opinion that is fair, and you think if the SPS did open a public school in the downtown core as you delineate with 1000 citizens under the age of 18 it would be popular with parents.
Until SPS does open such a school we will never know. With long term declining student population and issues with downtown Seattle I doubt SPS will in the near future.
“There are no high schools in Magnolia or Queen Anne. Do you think there are no high school students in Magnolia or Queen Anne?”
Fun fact, my friend in north Lynnwood attended Queen Anne High School and walked there from southwest Capitol Hill before the 8 existed. She says there were lots of families with children in the apartments on Summit in the 70s.
Classic DT move: complaining about an insult after repeating the exact same insult.
Unrelated: NYC is home to just under 2 million cars. That’s four times as many as Seattle – NYC must be four times the car city Seattle is! Like some posters, I will now proceed to ignore any context to those numbers.
To continue to DT’s standard of commentary, I will now provide unsolicited advice: when it comes to demographic data, the age of the data is everything, especially in a city changing as rapidly as Seattle. DT references demographics trends from 1990-2000 in his post. Ross references articles from 2014. In arguments around current population trends, I suggest referencing articles which rely current Census data (2020). Otherwise, when referencing older data, you must identify the time period of the data and address any differences between then, now, and the future.
In regard to social preferences, though, Ross’ Sightline reference has a link to an article with a few interesting anecdotes (https://www.sightline.org/2014/07/20/a-downtown-school-just-dropped-in-seattles-lap/), particularly in regards to how young parents who start families downtown often move to neighborhoods which have a neighborhood elementary school. There is also an anecdote in the article explicitly stating that a young family decided to move out of downtown because there was not an elementary school in the neighborhood.
Here you go Nathan. This article has all the car ownership data you will ever need, and it is from 2022.
A few observations about Downtown school siting.
1. Standards apply to everyone. The simple fact that there are many instances where campus sizes are irrelevant is evidence enough that the standard is pretty ridiculous. Sure everyone can point to their own values and experiences and opinions, but standards are forcing a particular thing on everyone. (I’m sure someone will do just that — failing to accept that their opinions and universal standards are different things.)
2. There is plenty of land around schools that is not usable for active recreation. There are schools sites on steep hillsides. There are schools forced to have a setback that bears no relation to the educational goal. The mere fact that a requirement dictates aggregate size of a campus rather than the size of something like a playground or a paved court is a pretty big reveal about its arbitrariness.
As far as a Downtown site goes, there are many creative ways to create a site. For example, what about building a school next to I5 and letting the oft-discussed lid be the play area for that school? Maybe the school can be built adjacent to railroad tracks that could be lidded for a play area.
Daniel, if you’re going to snark, at least do it right. The article may be from 2022, but the data it references is the 2020 census. Besides, state-level and MSA-level car ownership data is largely irrelevant to the discussion.
I never said the data was from 2022 Nathan. I said the article was from 2022. There is always a lag between the gathering and publishing of this kind of data.
You and Ross made car ownership data relevant in your posts, in which you stated NY had 2 million cars to suggest I was not taking into consideration population/car ratio’s in my comment that Seattle has 460,000 cars.
Personally, I can’t think of any more relevant data in deciding mode and coverage for transit. Too often irrelevant data on this blog means inconvenient.
I have a kid in high school. We have moved around alot, but the one constant had been being able for him to walk to school. On his own since 9.
He loves me for it. He learns better, he gets daily exercise. And it’s his responsibility to get to school on time.
The drive and drop off madness is for idiots. Anybody who buys their 16 year old a car is making a massive mistake. Teaching all the wrong lessons.
Making a 16 year old buy his own car is a defining life lesson. He will need a car the rest of his life and lived too far away to walk to high school or his job in H.S.
By the way Cam did your kid go to public school, and did you move when your kid advanced from elementary school to middle school then to high school because they are usually far apart, or like my wife did your son attend K-12 in one building?
On MI there is one middle school at the far south end of the Island and we would have had to sell our house on the north end and buy another to allow him to walk to the middle school, and done the same when he transferred to the H.S. that is in the center of the Island. Which schools did your son attend that allowed him to walk to from one residence.
I have to imagine even in Seattle a very small percentage of kids walk to school , and virtually none at age 9 although like Mike my parents allowed that when I attended K-5 in Seattle. But then I walked ten miles each way in the snow to school when I was young.
He went to public elementary and middle school in Albuquerque. He could walk to both. In elementary, I usually went with him, but not always. Usually we planned some fun thing, where we would bike or skateboard or walk the dog. Or even have the dog pull him on the skateboard. He sure looked forward to school.
Middle school was embarrassing close. Like 50 feet.
Here in Tacoma, Middle school is 4 blocks away, and HS is 6. Nice, quiet residentially neighborhood.
It’s all what you prioritize.
“He will need a car the rest of his life and lived too far away to walk to high school or his job in H.S.”
Half the teens twenty-somethings I know don’t even know how to drive, much less have a car. If you prioritize where you live, you don’t have to indenture yourself and become a fat, lazy car-clown.
The sad part is that because of our exclusionary zoning, being able to live in a place where you don’t need to drop 10 grand a year just for basic mobility often takes luck, privilege, substantial sacrifice, or all 3.
Cam and Daniel. Never have two people who barely use public transit, talked about it more.
I took 3 modes of transit yesterday alone. I would use transit to commute, if only it were usable in pierce. I thought about taking the bus home in the rain tonight, but I would have had to wait 45 minutes, for a 30 minute trip. Home on my bike in 20.
I advocate for usable transit, but until l get it, don’t mistake me for an idiot, Sam.
Ok, then I’m mistaken. You are a frequent transit user. But, you once said that a bus route (PT Route 1) stops in front of your home, and it also stops in front of your work, but you never take it. You said prefer to driving to work. That’s where I got my impression that you rarely take transit.
Yes, the 1 does stop right in front of my work and a couple blocks from my house. I do take it very occasionally, but it’s frequency makes it difficult to use for anyone who values their time. I value my time. It is everyv30 minures and goes to hourly after 6:30.
I don’t drive to work, I ride my bike.
To clarify. I use transit when I leave Pierce. ST and metro are usable. PT isnt.
Since there is no transit on MI I rarely use it. I rarely drive either anymore. I walk to work now. Sometimes I walk to the Roanoke for a beer, or to the town center to eat or get a glass of wine. Or I walk to the community center to work out. It turns out 90% of my driving was commuting to work in downtown Seattle. I need to find a blog for walkers.
I did give Pierce Transit a legitimate chance for a month when I was recovering from a serious injury for a month this fall. Half the time I ended up walking the entire hour-plus to work, due to frequency and reliability issues. A quarter of the time I caught another bus that worked, after a longer walk (the 45 or the 48). A quarter of the time route 1 worked as intended. Not good odds for a busy human, and not something I could count on.
As an aside, this is why you can’t use current PT usage as a gauge for future usage, if you were to actually properly fund, staff and route the system. And why PSRC is making a massive equity mistake when using those metrics in shorting Pierce during funding allocation.
I the US (outside NYC and SF), I don’t expect transit to be competitive with a car. That’s too high a bar.
But I do expect transit to be competitive with a bike. If it’s not, while my body still functions reasonably well, the choice is obvious.
No love for Chicago, Cam? Boston and Chicago have better transit than SF, though Boston proper is so small walking/biking is often faster than transit (with driving the slowest). I’d put DC & Philly transit comparable to SF within the city, and across the metro both have better transit than the Bay Area.
Hah. Yes. I do like the El, but didn’t have enough experience to know if it was competitive with driving. I did seem to spend an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic with my north suburbs girlfriend, so we should probably have been riding it more.
My only experience with Boston subways is “He may ride for ever ‘neath the streets of Boston. He’s the man who never returned”.
DC was definitely a town I never rented a car in, when visiting my girlfriend there. So yeah, probably competitive. (I am noticing a pattern in my life. I appear to have chased girlfriends to good transit cities). I broke up with my girlfriend right before she moved to Philly. Alas.
One key report about schooling documents why schools across the US are losing enrollment: home schooling.
Notice in the article that there is a 1.0 increase in home schooling in our MSA while our state has seen an increase of 1.5 percent. That means that this is not an urban phenomenon and that in our state, it’s the rest of the state seeing this trend more popular.. Several mostly rural states have had the biggest surges.
Keep in mind that this is attributed to Covid. Covid hasn’t been around long enough to be a “trend”. We need to wait at least 2-3 more years to determine that it’s an actual trend.
A chance to tell ST how you love/gate/vomit a 14th Ave. Stop!
Anyone planning to cover it?
Hey, I just put up the Bat signal for Seattle Subway or their fellow travelers to grab their pitchforks and torches.
I hope they will provide more tunnel options. Still have not given up on Market St. I was planning to attend and happy to write it up.
I submitted a draft.
From the link:
“Specifically, the workshop will include sharing information and findings on potential cost savings and access improvements Sound Transit has been studying related to the 14th and 15th Ave NW tunnel station options.”
The last cost saving proposal I saw was a DSTT2 with one station from Sodo to Westlake. Please let us know what the cost saving proposals for 14th and 15th are, although Tom Terrific might point out the terms “cost savings” and “tunnel station options” are an oxymoron.
That’s largely true, Daniel, but it really is possible to build underground stations more cheaply than ST has done it so far. The might not be as pretty, of course. And I’ll stick by my belief that the “diagonal” streets in Ballard make a surface station at Market on either Tallman (better for possible surface extension north) or Russell a very attractive solution.
I don’t have the expertise Tom to know. I hope you attend the public meeting. One consideration is I think if there is not enough money for WSBLE Constantine will prioritize WS. Has the Ballard community rallied around a single location?
Not that I know of. They just want it closer to 20th and Market.
What’s the plan for the Smith Cove stop? Missed opportunity to allow the West Queen Anne neighborhood pedestrian access to Link.
The comment section says it’s too far to walk from 15th & Market to 20th & Market, so how are people going to be able walk all the way from Smith Cove up the hill to West Queen Anne?
I’ve done the walk between west Queen Anne and the Expedia area before. It’s definitely doable. But, it’s long enough I’m not convinced that walking to Smith Cove station and riding Link downtown would actually be any faster than present-day options, such as walking to the monorail or D-line, or riding the #1 bus all the way.
I could see this maybe making sense for riding Link the other direction to go to Ballard, but I’m not sure it would be quicker than walking to a different Link station near the Seattle Center.
Speaking of which where are the stations going to be in the queen Anne area? Is it gates foundation to Smith Cove, with no stops in between, or is there a stop somewhere west of Seattle Center in between?
Current Seattle Center station locations under consideration are around Republican & 1st, or Mercer & QA Ave/1st Ave.
Link doesn’t serve Queen Anne; it’s not in its service area. People can take a long steep walk down the hill, but it’s not expected that average people will. Uptown Station will give indirect service to it. Why walk down the west side of the hill when there are frequent buses to the south side?
Queen Anne had an opportunity to get a station at the top of the hill in the Fremont tunnel alternative, but it didn’t rally behind it. It was more concerned about keeping growth away than about transit access. And since Queen Anne is not a large jobs/multifamily center like Lake City is, it can’t expect special consideration for Link. It’s like Beacon Hill, a small community that might get Link if it’s on the way. Queen Anne had the opportunity to argue for the alternative that put it on the way, but didn’t.
Smith Cove station is still being moved around or even being eliminated. Depending on where it lands, a funicular or gondola would be a great way to take you up the hill, but does West QA have enough ridership to warrant such investment? Would it make more sense to connect the Seattle Center station with Central QA via gondola?
It would definitely make more sense to bring back the service provided by the Counterbalance. Any east-west hill-climbing service would be best done as a speculative investment by a private entity, if the City loosens/eliminates limits on residential and commercial zoning on the east and west slopes of Magnolia and Queen Anne, respectively.
“It would definitely make more sense to bring back the service provided by the Counterbalance. Any east-west hill-climbing service would be best done as a speculative investment by a private entity, if the City loosens/eliminates limits on residential and commercial zoning on the east and west slopes of Magnolia and Queen Anne, respectively.”
The reality is a Ballard Link extension has neither the population nor the population density along most of its route to justify the cost, especially post pandemic, and of course N. King Co. does not have the funding for the extension. There is a very small population center in Ballard (depending on whether you are talking about 14th, 15th or 20th), and not much until you get to SLU.
To suggest residents in pricey view homes on the west side of Queen Anne would upzone their properties in order to manufacture ridership to support some kind of private transit to the bottom of the hill so they could or would ride transit in order to validate the costs of a Ballard Link extension proves my point.
The irony of course is in this system West Seattle which probably has less population density and even more nothingness between its proposed (underground) stations and downtown Seattle will get priority (at least to Sodo) because the King Co. Exec. lives there. Unless of course N. King Co. can find another $10 billion to $12 billion in cost savings or funding, and we will see in the next open house.
The Smith Cove Station, if not eliminated by cost-cutting attempts, would be located above the Magnolia Bridge, which would theoretically provide access for West QA residents via the trail through the “GTB Trail” mapped through the SW QA Greenbelt. Although, I’m sure a fair bit of work would be required to update the trail to a proper pedestrian pathway if folks are interested in that hike.
No, because few of these new apartments will be below market or 100% AMI, except some affordable set asides in the 70% AMI range. or more likely fee in lieu of.
Then you have to look at the housing these new projects replaced and how affordable it was.
Homelessness and 0-30% AMI often mean a residual wage earning capacity at or near zero. No non subsidized housing is affordable in that income range. That is supportive housing.
Based on permit applications and redemptions from REIT’s this pace of development will definitely decrease as long as interest rates are high.
Some believe any new construction no matter how expensive lowers market rate apartment rents by increasing supply which lowers or stabilized existing rents no doubt is correct to some extent. Others believe the gentrification from the new units and the loss of the old housing the new housing replaced mitigates any improvement in affordability. 2300 new units were added near u Village but average rents were $2000 — $6000/month.
As Sam notes pretty dramatic housing construction since 2014 has not lowered rents appreciably. Instead it is rising interest rates and a cooling economy that are lowering housing prices across the board.
This may help lower or stabilize rents in this area, along with other layoffs.
Apartment construction across much of the US is at a record high. People have said in the past we have homelessness because there isn’t enough housing. So, should all this new housing cause a drop in homelessness, even by the slightest amount?
While that is true, completions are well below normal. Labor and material supply problems are hindering completions, though hopefully that will change.
I do think we will see a decrease in rent pressure leading to improved homeless situation. Eventually. And in some places.
Right now we are seeing increasing vacancies and rent declines in some selected cities – Houston, Phoenix, Baltimore, Atlanta and a few other southern cities. Not the cities with the biggest numbers of people experiencing homelessness. I think that national data obscures the problems in the cities with zoning which only allows very small slices of land to build multifamily. Supply constraints on those parcels cause them to be unnecessarily expensive and therefore often built for and targeted to the higher-end market to recoup their investment.
Fingers crossed that changes.
I think Biden can help out here. The US needs a lot more housing.
The question is, “Where do we build it?” I think the Feds could finance a massive build of senior housing for low income folks on a fixed income. Because this group can pay rent, the numbers work out pretty easy.
My fear is Biden will give the money to San Francisco, L.A, Seattle, NYC…. all Liberal strongholds. Money for lower income housing just don’t go that far in urban areas. It’s just not going to really help much.
The Feds could fund projects in rural places with cheaper land and cheaper (and more abundant) labor. Think about hundreds of modular, prebuilt homes in little towns reserved for seniors in po’dunk towns. Those places need population right now.
Little towns in Utah have lots of housing for seniors, market rate apartments and trailer parks set up for retired Mormons who return to their hometown. A sort of Mormon diasporia. Right now there’s a crisis because non-Mormon seniors have moved in from California and Arizona and took all the cheaper rentals because there wasn’t any place else they could afford on Social Security. The good news is Utah isn’t opposed to building more housing for the newcomers.
Seattle is in a tough spot because there’s just no way the City can really go it alone at this point. And Seattle shouldn’t have to. As a long time Sound Transit naysayer, I’d vote to build high speed rail to Yakima in a minute. There’s land out there to actually expand into. I’ve traveled around Germany quite a bit and have connections to the construction industry there. That whole place is built with high speed roads, rail, internet, everything you need to spread growth around city to city. The German government planned it that way. Seattle is trapped now… there’s nowhere to grow.
“I do think we will see a decrease in rent pressure leading to improved homeless situation.”
The first thing is to stop the increases, so the problem doesn’t keep getting worse. Every time rent goes up, more people at the bottom become homeless. And others get displaced to car-dependent suburbs or have to spend 50+% of their income on rent.
Ideally rents and house prices would fall 50% to bring them more in line with wages, back to the 2011 level. Nobody expects that, so that just shows why we should have nipped the problem in the bud in 2011 (and before that in 2003) rather than letting it fester into a gigantic crisis. Let’s at least do something in 2023 so that prices don’t go up to San Francisco/San Jose levels but remain more stable like Dallas and Chicago.
I’ve said the same thing several times: build affordable housing in affordable cities and provide would-be residents with the means to get there. Not Cabrini-Green of course. Sprinkle the housing around and include a level with “counselors” on-site to help people with services.
It should be a Federal responsibility and people who are living in unsanitary, dangerous camps should be forced into the system.
This is not “criminalizing poverty”, but rather health and wellness initiative.
It’s not enough. You have to saturate the problem to make a sustained difference. Seattle was building 9 housing units for every 12 additional jobs, so every year it was falling further behind. That’s why rents went through the roof. That and the fact it reached a tipping point when the $650 mid-century 1 BRs suddenly shot up to $1000. That was the last remaining slack in the market. When you reach a tipping point, suddenly things accelerate. Some of those $650 units were replaced by new apartments so that explains the price increase. But others didn’t change at all, the price just went up, because the vacancy rate got so low and more people began competing for the same number of units.
Builders are hesitant to “saturate” the market, especially if the goal is to lower prices. Even in excellent economic conditions with low interest rates, high population growth in Seattle, plentiful labor, low labor and materials cost, high income jobs growth 2014-21, and major upzones in the multi-family/UGA zones builders still didn’t “saturate” the market, and only a small percentage of upzoned capacity (UGA’s) has been developed.
Reduced population, layoffs in high income tech jobs that will discourage migration to Seattle, fewer downtown workers, less commuting. new units coming on the market, more renters sharing, declining Covid savings, and many younger renters moving back in with their parents hopefully will reduce rents. The Fed is hoping a steep increase in the unemployment rate will drive down housing which makes up 40% of its inflation index, although housing costs are already declining.
“Builders are hesitant to “saturate” the market, especially if the goal is to lower prices.”
The problem isn’t builders, it’s zoning. It’s illegal to build non-SF housing on 70% of the land, even of owners and builders want to and have the money ready. So it all gets squeezed into 30%, which is not enough. Large developers outbid small developers for scarce density-allowed lots, so only the largest Wall Street-backed firms and largest projects get built. That’s why the market has bifurcated into large or single-family with little in between. If you expand the upzoned area, then eventually the market for large buildings will saturate and Wall Street will go home, and then smaller developers can build missing middle housing on remaining lots without being outbid.
There are three areas where developers’ lack of interest has been a limiting factor; in southern Rainier Valley. in Federal Way, and in Lynnwood. People don’t want to live that far from downtown Seattle and Bellevue, at least not enough for them to be fully built up at this time. But that doesn’t apply to theoretical upzones in Central Seattle, North Seattle, or Bellevue. There it’s clearly zoning that’s holding things back.
The large lots for single-user buildings or large developments like the Spring District are gradually filling up in the Bellevue-Kirkland-Redmond core and in inner Seattle. When that happens, developers, renters, and condo buyers will expand to less-desirable areas like Eastgate, Rainier Beach, Lynnwood, and Federal Way, and then they’ll catch up.
Believe me, there is a huge problem with builders. Most of the mom and pop contractors I know, little outfits who can build an entire house with help from a few sub contractors (electrical and plumbing) are out of business or work for the bigger construction outfits. Man, I’ll tell you that that Wall Street money is damn good for Joe Tile Setter. Unions play a major role in this game as well… all the players are on the same page here.
The entire Seattle construction industry and rental market is controlled by a few big players. Nothing is going to get built without the maximum profit and the maximum rent. The idea that some sort of zoning change and the “free market” is going to lower housing prices in the Puget Sound is laughable.
Mike says: “There are three areas where developers’ lack of interest has been a limiting factor; in southern Rainier Valley. in Federal Way, and in Lynnwood.”
I can’t speak for the first two, however here are a couple of links related to Lynnwood.
“Northline Village, a “game changer”
No planned development will have as much of an impact on Lynnwood’s future City Center as the 19-acre Northline Village, by private developer Merlone Geier Partners. Currently an expanse of surface-level park lots and single story commercial structures, the future Northline Village become a new neighborhood of 1,370 apartment homes, 522,000 square feet office space, 207,000 square feet of retail space, a movie theater, two parks, and new connections for existing grid streets. While current renderings show two areas of surface level parking, the intention is for all parking to eventually be integrated into buildings. ”
“Kinect @ Lynnwood, however, represents a clear shift toward residential density. Located next to the Interurban trail, which extends (haltingly at times) from North Seattle all the way to Everett, residents will one day be able to use the trail to walk or roll to the light rail station or Alderwood Mall. Already leasing out apartments, the development includes 239 homes, 48 of which are restricted as affordable through the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) program.”
“A stone’s throw away, Ember, a larger mixed-use development of 361 apartment homes and 9,000 square feet of retail/commercial has been approved and is on track to open at the same time as the light rail station in 2024”
You can see a few other developments listed here, including:
“Avalon Alderwood is a new mixed-used development at the site of the old Sears at Alderwood mall. This six story project will include:
328 multi-family housing units
64,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor”
“Alderwood Mixed-Use: Proposed 18-story mixed-used development
346 multi-family units
3,465 square feet of retail commercial space on the first floor
Located on Alderwood Mall Parkway across from the Alderwood mall”
Hope this helps.
Finally downtown Lynnwood is becoming something other than big-box stores and huge surface parking lots. The Lynnwood city council has been talking about it for fifteen years but nothing ever happened. If it had upzoned sooner and tried harder to woo developers, it could have done it in the 2000s and leveraged some of that real-estate money.
Tacomee, you are a welcome dose of market reality on this blog. Some think that if they change (use) zoning others will build it at a loss, or that rents are a free market system.
I remember when we were told the UGA’s would solve Seattle’s housing affordability issues. 2300 units were built near U Village with rents between $2000 and $6000/mo.
The great irony is rising interest rates will halt most construction and reduce housing prices at the same time, although I think Seattle will find a jobs recession — on top of a loss of 60% of work commuters — is a brutal way to reduce housing prices.
“Some think that if they change (use) zoning others will build it at a loss,”
You think owners and developers are just breaking even? That only a little nudge would put them into the red and make them stop building? Rents have risen 40% since 2011 and home prices have gone up more that, while inflation was under 2% for most of that time. Where did all that money go? Most of it went into the owners’ pockets. They’ve been making a huge windfall, one of the most lucrative investments there is. So there’s plenty of room for it to go down a little and they’ll still make large profits.
“I remember when we were told the UGA’s would solve Seattle’s housing affordability issues.”
Who told you that? The urban-growth boundary and urban growth centers are environmental policies, not a substitute for subsidized housing. A decision was made to channel growth into denser centers rather than sprawling through the woods or spreading it out evenly. That was to protect both undeveloped land and your precious existing single-family houses. Making housing affordable would mean rolling back rents to $1000 and houses to $200-300K, and that clearly wasn’t going to happen with urban-growth areas alone or the planned upzones.
“2300 units were built near U Village with rents between $2000 and $6000/mo.”
And? There’s a housing shortage, so of course it’s that high. And that just shows that developers are making a killing if they can get $2000-6000 out of every unit.
I don’t even believe it’s up to $6000; that must be a very few huge penthouse-type units. Average rents are still in the $1800-2200 range, so where would they find a lot of people to pay three times that? And if it’s only a few units, they don’t matter because they’re irrelevant to most people. Just like the mansions on the Lake Washington shore are few and irrelevant compared to the total number of houses or the total population.
“The great irony is rising interest rates will halt most construction and reduce housing prices at the same time, although I think Seattle will find a jobs recession — on top of a loss of 60% of work commuters — is a brutal way to reduce housing prices.”
It still won’t bring them down to affordable levels. The last recession lowered prices 20%. That would cover only half the increases since 2011. So it’s not making them affordable; it’s just making them slightly less unaffordable.
The other issue is, if you’re right, and developers really are at the end of what they’re willing to build, then we’ll upzone but the market is saturated so nothing will be built. In that case you’ll have nothing to worry about — the precious single-family houses will remain intact. But then we’ll finally know what the saturation point is, which we’ll only know until we reach it. You’re just asserting the saturation point is the current zoning capacity, with no evidence that it is, and people continue to be displaced and can’t find a unit in a good transit location, and every time a new building opens it fills up within a year or two. When a large number of buildings open all at once, like recently in SLU and downtown, then it takes longer, partly because they’re higher-priced than surrounding new units. But there’s no evidence they won’t fill in 2-3 years. For the past thirty years people have repeatedly said we’ve reached the end of growth, but every time they’re wrong, even if it occasionally stalls for two years during recessions. So either we assume growth will continue because it always has since 1980, or we stop building. And if we stop building but growth continues, then we’ll get into a much worse situation and San Francisco-type prices, and it will take years for housing to catch up because of the construction lag time. We can’t let that happen. So we need to keep building until growth definitively stops for a substantial period of time — more than a couple yeaars.
Sounder has two possible futures. One would be to upgrade Sounder South to half-hourly like Caltrain. That would substantially improve access to Kent, Auburn, and Puyallup. If we’d done it in the 1990s, it could have replaced South Link. Kent Station and Auburn Station are in the middle of the population concentration, and larger cities with a wider variety of jobs than SeaTac, Des Moines or Federal Way. But the cost would have been astronomical to lease time slots from BNSF, so it wasn’t pursued. And it was high priority for Link to serve the airport, which Sounder couldn’t, and Federal Way is entitled because it’s on an I-5 exit.
The other way Sounder South could go is to double down on peak hours. That’s where most of the current ridership and lowest-hanging growth is. Sounder did have a reverse-peak run and a few midday runs in the mid 2010s, but they were very low ridership. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: you need more sustained frequency to attract riders, but you also need more housing near stations.
There’s a way to overcome the financing problem if the state would get involved. The state could buy the BNSF track, make it passenger priority, and add a third track to get more capacity. ST’s $5-10 billion at a time isn’t enough for this, plus the state has more clout with BNSF.
If the state did that, we could have half-hourly Sounder and hourly Cascades or something like that. Sounder could be extended to Olympia and Marysville. Or Cascades and Sounder could merge into express+local service. But the state has not been interested in this.
The state’s long-range rail plan includes raising Cascades to 110 mph medium-speed service. That’s the sweet spot between speed and cost in its corridor. The state has been working on it in fits and starts, but not enough to ever get it finished.
Sounder North is a lost cause because Edmonds and Mukilteo Stations are along the water, west of the bulk of Southwest Snohomish’s population. The track is on a hillside next to the water, which limits expansion. I and others have been giving ST feedback for a decade saying to cancel Sounder North and put the money into replacement express buses and accelerating Lynnwood and Everett Link. ST hasn’t been interested because Sounder North is “a voter-approved service”, so ST thinks the public wants it to continue. However, the post-2020 realignment is causing ST to start thinking about things it wasn’t willing to do before. I don’t remember whether some boardmembers or politicians this year have whispered the possibility of maybe terminating Sounder North someday. Does anybody remember more on this?
I really think that ST and the state actually need to put a viable “Plan B” proposal four Sounder South on the table. Here’s why:
There is only one possible buyer for the tracks and that’s a joint state-ST-HSR entity. Who else can they sell to?
A concept plan to construct competing tracks/ service needs a price tag. There is freeway right of way available albeit it’s tight in some places for rail. I don’t know what the plan would look like — but the mere existence of a Plan B is useful in negotiations even if it’s not that serious of an idea.
In a way, the dilemma is the limited number of Sounder train permanent easements. There is no incentive to cancel service and no incentive to pay the extortion money to expand the increasingly less ridden service,
Right now, the railroad has the upper hand because there is no Plan B. Unless the price is just wacko, it’s a good bargaining chip!
The state has been too busy building new freeways and widening existing ones to think about Cascades or Sounder. HSR is just pie-in-the-sky, a study because the large companies wanted one.
The state also conducted local rail studies in the 2010s. It looked at an Everett-Bellingham line, and an Auburn-Black Diamond-Maple Valley line. The transfer in Everett was assumed because it’s the boundary of the ST and non-ST service area. But theoretically an alternate funding model could allow a Bellingham-Seattle one-seat ride. Both of these proposals stalled because the cities would like rail but aren’t willing to put money into it.
I don’t remember whether the state studied extending Sounder to Olympia. We have certainly talked about it. Intercity Transit funded a pilot extension of ST Express to Olympia; I think that came from a state grant. That was intended to be a precursor to potential permanent service or a train extension, but it didn’t last. The schedule was also one-way: northbound AM, southbound PM. So you couldn’t take it to Olympia for the day.
Kitsap Transit also funds an ST Express extension to Gig Harbor. So there are precedents for out-of-district service. Another option would be to annex Thurston County into he ST district. I’m leery about that because it would bring in an disproportionate number of exurban nimbys/tax-haters. So I’d rather the state or Intercity Transit just pay ST for specific services, without disturbing the tax district.
Can an area be “annexed” into the ST subarea system without a vote? For Thurston Co. that would likely mean running a line from Olympia to TDLE/mall? I guess the question is who pays for the line from TDLE to Olympia, and how.
The legislature just passed an historic transportation budget at around $15 billion. I think around 70-80% goes towards roads and bridges. I would be surprised if the legislature passed another $15 billion for Sounder S. with TDLE/Federal Way soon to open and ridership down 70%. The real question is whether ST and the subareas will spend the money to continue current Sounder S. peak service. My guess is they do until at least Federal Way Link opens and make a decision at that time based on ridership and subarea finances. I think Tacoma would object to ending Sounder S. before at least Federal Way link opens.
If you’re coming from Kent or Auburn, I would expect Sounder to still offer big time savings over Link, at least during the limited hours that Sounder is running. Link from federal way to downtown is projected at nearly an hour, Sounder from Auburn to downtown is something like 25 minutes. Add in time to drive or bus to the Link station, the time difference only gets larger.
If Sounder doesn’t run, the replacement would have to be express buses, but the only way to achieve anything close to Sounder’s travel time is to create a separate non-stop bus route for a very south king stop, so each sounder trip would require no less than 5 bus trips. With the BNSF lease a sunk cost, I can easily see all these buses replacing sounder not actually saving any money.
North Sounder should die, but I think south sounder should remain, even after Link is fully developed.
“Can an area be “annexed” into the ST subarea system without a vote?”
It’s never been done before so I don’t know if there is a procedure. The boundaries change by a few blocks all the time, but this would be the first time an entire county or city came in. It would require a vote in Thurston County to extend the tax district to it. I’m not sure if the other subareas would have to vote on it jointly. It would substantially change the board. It may change ST’s focus as it integrates Thurston’s priorities. It may make it harder for ST to do its existing work, if the subarea comes with a large majority of “No” votes. The other subareas may not want to expand it, for that reason.
“For Thurston Co. that would likely mean running a line from Olympia to TDLE/mall? I guess the question is who pays for the line from TDLE to Olympia, and how.”
It would require a larger negotiation on what Thurston would get for its ST taxes. All other subareas have ST Express, a roadmap to Link, Sounder if the tracks are there, and emerging Stride. The tax rate is uniform across all subareas, so I assume Thurston would pay the equivalent of “ST1+ST2+ST3” taxes. It’s hard to imagine an exurban county getting only Sounder being willing to pay that. It may have some money left over, so what would it spend it on? ST hasn’t even imagined Thurston coming in, as far as I know. It’s something that may happen in the far future in another generation.
We’ve been discussing only extending Sounder, not Link. Link’s southern terminus from ST’s creation to 2013 was Tacoma Dome. Now Pierce is saying Tacoma Mall should be the final terminus. Not Lakewood and certainly lot Olympia. I wouldn’t want to imagine what the travel time would be. So it’s not “TLDE”; it’s Tacoma Dome Sounder Station.
But as I said, Thurston can buy individual services without joining the ST district. Nobody has stepped up to fund them. Theoretically the state could fund it to provide access between the state capitol and the largest metropolitan area. Or Intercity Transit could raise its own taxes for it, or the county or cities could establish a transit benefit district. Nobody knows if they’d even want to, or if they’d be willing to pay the cost of Sounder. And the Legislature hasn’t shown any interest beyond the pilot project.
Another issue is that Olympia Station is on the outskirts of the city, so everybody would have to take a bus shuttle to downtown Olympia and the Capitol. The track between the station and downtown Olympia has apparently been dug up for housing development, although I’ve heard contradictory things about that. So at minimum it would require a station in the outskirts, improving the track to downtown Olympia, or the latter is impossible now.
There is existing bus service to Olympia. Intercity Transit 620 express goes from Olympia Transit Center to Lakewood Station, where you can transfer to the 574, 592, or 594. That’s 1.5-3 hours each way. The 620 goes up and down in service over time: right now it runs every 60-90 minutes from 6am to 7pm; at other times it’s been peak only.
the only way to achieve anything close to Sounder’s travel time is to create a separate non-stop bus route for a very south king stop, so each sounder trip would require no less than 5 bus trips. With the BNSF lease a sunk cost, I can easily see all these buses replacing sounder not actually saving any money.
I don’t think anyone is seriously considering getting rid of South Sounder. Even at reduced ridership the trains operate reasonably well, and as you wrote, the cost to lease time on the tracks is a sunk cost. Too late now.
I think the question is whether we want more midday service or not. There are several options:
1) Pay BNSF to run more trains in the middle of the day.
2) Buy out track rights from BNSF and run trains whenever we feel like it.
3) Run express buses to downtown serving the stations (in the middle of the day).
4) Put the money into other bus service.
My guess is that #4 is the best option, by a long margin. Relatively few travel from city to city outside of commute hours. Bus service is so poor in many of these small cities/suburbs than anything would be an improvement, and likely get plenty of riders per hour.
But it gets tricky. Limited-time service degrades potential ridership, simply because people are afraid of “being stranded”. In other words, midday transit service helps peak-service.
#2 is the ideal option, but it likely very expensive. It needs to be considered as part of high(er) speed rail between Seattle and Portland. That is a state-wide project, and the state should pay for it. This would be a much better value for the area than spending money on the 167/509 project (but of course it is too late to shift the money).
I don’t see the first option making financial sense. It would be expensive to run buses, but I don’t think you would have five separate bus routes. Tacoma has its own bus, so that is covered. From what I can tell, Auburn is the biggest detour for someone from Puyallup. That means that Auburn would be the tail for the second route (Tukwila/Kent/Auburn) while the third would be Sumner/Puyallup. You are probably looking at hourly buses, although running buses every half hour is not crazy, and probably still cheaper than buying the rights to run the trains.
“Thurston Co. that would likely mean running a line from Olympia to TDLE/mall?”
The line already exists, and has passenger service on it from the Olympia/Lacy station to Tacoma Dome. The section from the current Olympia/Lacy statuon to downtown Olympia isn’t too bad, but has been neglected. It’s got curves, but nothing insanely sharp. Most could probably be upgraded to at least 60 mph running. As best as I can tell, it’s still owned by the city of Tacoma, so there’s no BNSF to fight with over capacity.
Fright is once per weekday, each direction. No real need to add passing sidings. What’s there is sufficient for the single freight train to wait for a passenger train, and it would only take about 10 minutes for the passenger to get from one end of the line to the other.
Given enough money, you’d probably want to add a third track from Nisqually to the Olympia junction. However, with Sounder already occupying the north end from Tacoma to Seattle, it seems like there should already be empty main line capacity up to the Olympia / Lacy station.
Patty Murray just became the first chairperson of the Senate Appropriations committee, right? I think with her past work in getting federal funding for local projects, and Biden’s proclivity to trains, she’s got a shot at getting some more passenger-only rail tracks here in the future.
200 comments in five days on an open thread, wow. We only used to get this on a few Link planning articles per year. So the commentariat is very robust and I think has grown in the past year. I don’t have another open thread ready so we’ll just keep piling into this one. I’m expecting the next one to be in a few days. (Unless Ross wants to post something in the meantime.)
There have been many comments and posts about the breakdowns of the escalators and elevators and today I experienced it myself.
I had to go to SeaTac Airport and rode the light rail from Northgate and found both the up and down escalators at the south end of the station not working. These are the 2 escalators from the ground level to the next level. When I got the next level I saw that the down escalator from the train level to the 2nd level was not working. And the elevator from the 2nd level to the ground level was also down. When I returned in the afternoon the escalator from the ground level to the 2nd level had been fixed but no change for the rest.
At SeaTac both the up and down escalators at the south end of the station were down and so was the elevator at the north end.
For a public agency like ST that is disgraceful that can’t keep a basic necessity like escalators and elevators operating that are needed to move about the stations.
And ST says this is normal, and every agency suffers this. But who has ever seen another transit network with so many breakdowns, at so many stations both old and new?
I had a similar experience like yours two weeks ago, my worst escalator/elevator experience ever. My friend and I took the 271 from Bellevue, each of us with a heavily-loaded rolling cart. At UW station she wanted to use the bridge rather than crossing two streets. So we took the west Montlake elevator up the bridge and walked over to the Link entrance. Both elevators were down. One had a half-moon fence in front of it. The other had a sign saying out of order, but the doors opened and somebody went in. So in case the sign was inaccurate, we pressed the button and the doors opened and we went in. We pressed the platform button but the elevator wouldn’t move, So we pressed the open button and got out. There’s no down escalator from the bridge, so we had to carry our carts down the stairs. Two other people were simultaneously carrying rolling suitcases down the stairs. At the ground level, I think all three following escalators worked. I may have seen another broken escalator but I’m not sure. We took the train to Capitol Hill. The Denny Way elevator was out of order. The escalator was closed in the down direction but open in the up direction, so we took the carts up the escalator to the mezzanine. We walked to the southwest entrance, and the elevator there worked.
I’ve had numerous escalator/elevator blockages, but never that many at once, and never with a rolling cart. Luckily there were no wheelchair users at the time.
In the first three years of UW Station (2016-2019), I commuted in the PM peak five days a week, and on three or more of those days at least one of the escalators was broken. It changed from day to day and from moring to evening. Sometimes one would be broken for one day, sometimes for two or three days or more. The elevators were more reliable, but they broke down several times too. Finally ST replaced the escalators with heavy-duty ones and they got much more reliable. But this past year I’ve seen more breakdowns again, not as many as before, but more than any other transit network I’ve experienced.
Capitol Hill station also opened in 2016, and had the same trajectory as UW station, although not nearly as bad. The southern platform escalators have been closed several tlmes. Again they got much better around 2019, but this year they’ve started faltering again. Sometimes I’d go down the southwest entrance and then get blocked at the southern platform escalator, so I’d have to take the Denny Way elevator the rest of the way down. If I’d known that I would have gone to that entrance in the first place!
Roosevelt station opened in 2021. My most common trips are between Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, and SODO. I’ve had several experiences with or seen broken escalators and elevators there. In a brand-new station, which supposedly learned from UW’s mistakes.
The DSTT esclators are so bad they’re not worth detailing. Those have the excuse that they’re thirty years old. For years on end the surface escalators at Westlake going down were closed. University Street was hit or miss, and when an escalator closed, it usually remained closed for weeks or months. Metro sometimes put up signs saying it was waiting for a federal grant to repair the escalator. They’re gradually getting better but we’re still not out of the woods yet.
My most amusing experience at Roosevelt was one evening when I got to the entrance and the fire alarm was sounding and the display said in red “Emergency – evacuate”. But there was no crowd coming out, and people were trickling in one by one. I waited a couple minutes and looked for a security guard to confirm whether the warning was accurate. Seeing none, I went down too, and found people waiting at the platform, and two minutes later a train came and took us on our way.
I was at a department store a few weeks ago with broken escalators. So, the problem is not entirely specific to transit.
Yeah, Sound Transit pretty much gets a free pass from its supporters.
Nobody is riding the Sounder? The answer isn’t ploughing millions (maybe billions) of dollars into a system that’s way short of riders hoping it turns into something people *might* use. The answer is to just shut it down and be done with it.
If a Pierce Transit bus route had this sort of low ridership. it would have been go a long time ago.
Tacomee, I am going to give ST a pass on Sounder S., at least for now.
Pre-pandemic ridership on this run resulted in a 30% farebox recovery rate, even with high track lease rates. The route for this area was pretty strong and hit what this area would consider city centers, and traffic congestion to Seattle on I-5 was very bad. Travel times to downtown Seattle — or King St. station — were better than driving and buses during peak hours, and rather comfortable. In 2016 it made sense to consider $1 billion in upgrades based on ST’s usual optimistic ridership numbers.
All transit nosedived, as did office occupancy rates, in 2020-21. Road use plummeted too. 2022 has been the year to see if the pandemic shifts in work and travel were going to be permanent. It looks like they will be. 2023 will be the reckoning year with Covid stimulus having run out, city and transit budget deficits becoming acute, and tax revenue reallocated from the past to different areas and subareas. Tough decisions lie ahead, and with the local economy tough decisions have not been necessary for many years, which is why so many Seattle City Councilmembers are deciding to not run again.
I thought the Pierce Co. Councilperson and ST Board member was pretty realistic in her assessment: the subarea can’t afford to continue to subsidize this run at 11% farebox recovery, but at the same time this is a very important transit option in this area, which is a transit wasteland, and the route is much better than Link will be in this area.
I also thought Timm was pretty realistic. Pierce Co. has been aggrieved for a long time that its subarea revenue has subsidized Link in every other area, except Pierce (unless you count the T line). Now Federal Way Link looks to be delayed until 2025 or 2026. So my guess is ST continues to run Sounder S. at a loss at least until Federal Way Link opens. ST (Pierce and S. King Co. subareas) cannot afford to operate both based on likely future ridership. Since Sounder needs first/last mile access at both ends and is leased it will get the ax of the two.
The interesting question is what does Sounder ridership changes tells us about Federal Way Link and TDLE. What they tell us is these folks, at least the ones whose jobs and lives allow them to take transit, are not travelling to Seattle anymore. So ridership on transit will be much more intra-subarea. Ironically the route Sounder takes is much better for intra-subarea transit. Federal Way Link and TDLE are about commuter travel to downtown Seattle, just like East Link, except the eastside subarea can afford a non-performing Link line. Plus Link will be slooooooooow to Seattle when congestion on I-5 is not such an issue.
It isn’t ridership on S. Sounder that is the issue, because those tracks are leased and ST can cancel the $1 billion in upgrades. BNSF is not going to object to ST cancelling the leases. S. Sounder will continue for a while for political reasons, and that is understandable. It is what will ridership on TDLE and Federal Way Link be, even without S. Sounder, and how will those very poor subareas afford O&M with very low farebox recovery rates?
Building light rail from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond was always based on an urbanist dream of huge population growth, population density, TOD, traffic congestion, folks giving up driving, more peak commuting, and downtown Seattle developing density like San Francisco. No private developer would have ever taken on that risk just based on current development, travel times on Link, lack of current population, the geographical size of the ST taxing district, first/last mile access in undense areas, and current zoning — not lack of upzoning of urban areas or areas along Link but the existing zoning from Snohomish to King to Kitsap to S. King to Pierce Co. that has zoned nearly 7 million square miles residential so there are no walls for the swimming pool, and it is too late to build those walls.
Oops. 7000 sq miles.
Normalizing escalator and elevator failures is an outcome of bureaucracy double-speak. Agencies naturally think they’ve done nothing wrong — including ST.
I agree that there is a structural problem that remains unfixed — even though ST pitched that they addressed the problem in 2017 after they blamed the manufacturer rather than their own oversight incompetence in both construction and operations. New flash: ST continues to fail to anddress its vertical conveyances problem.
One aspect that is still glaring to me is the lack of designing for redundancy. ST even cut escalators on Lynnwood Link with no public discussion just before groundbreaking. It’s ok to have a 5% downtime if there is an adjacent escalator, but it becomes problematic when there isn’t. Yes it adds $10m to $30m per station but it would have made these disruptions much less significant.
It still amazes me that the ST Board still gets a pass. We accept that the Board members are without culpability despite the problem not getting solved.
Sounder, with its very limited routing and schedule, has always been much more dependent on the downtown office commuter than the transit system as a whole. Buses (at least most routes) and Link can still get decent ridership, even with downtown offices only half occupied. Sounder, on the other hand, cannot.
“Buses (at least most routes) and Link can still get decent ridership, even with downtown offices only half occupied. Sounder, on the other hand, cannot.”
It can, and more, if it is frequent. All day and all week.
It would be my go-to transit to Seattle for every trip, including transfers to other parts of the city if I could count on it any time of day or week, and I could count on it for coming home. I am sure I’m not alone. It’s quick, it’s reliable and it’s an incredibly comfortable ride.
Right now, it simply never even occurs to me to consider it, except as a lark. I don’t commute to Seattle, so it’s completely useless.
LIRR is back to 2/3rds of prepandemic ridership because it is all-week, all-day until 11. It runs about 175K riders daily over a dozen branches. Very close to ridership for South Sounder, with 1 line.
That is how I would get to Long Island. It was the first, last and only way I would ever consider. That is the model we should be trying for.
The truth about the construction industry in Puget Sound– The Blue Collar Blues .
I started working in construction in the 1980s building houses in Puyallup and Black Diamond. I’m actually still friends with some of the guys I worked with back then and although the industry has had some changes, in many ways it’s still the same. Here’s a few reasons that the construction industry isn’t going to make housing in greater Seattle more affordable.
1. There’s always the push to build stuff faster… and the rank and file pretty much ignore it. Crews work a lot of overtime to get things done, but in reality the longer they work, the slower they go. It’s hard work and it takes time.
2. As my old boss used to say… “there’s only so many people on earth stupid enough to be a carpenter”. There’s a limited number of workers around, and even less skilled tradesman.
3. Subcontractors look for projects that take years to finish. A electrician and an apprentice or two would sign on for say, a million dollars of work over 3 years. They couldn’t handle a million in one year, and why would they want to?
4. So you’re a builder and every unit you finish sells for $10,000 more than the last one. Nobody in their right mind is in a hurry to build the project out!
5. Zoning doesn’t mean squat…. all the tradesman are currently busy and look to stay that way for some time. The construction industry has had a few hiccups over the last 40 years… most workers wouldn’t mind a slow year so they could sit at home and collect unemployment insurance for awhile. It’s tough work and the time to rest is a blessing.
6. construction workers hate “the suits” . Jackass real estate guys who get all bent out of shape because houses aren’t built fast enough for them to sell for big money. “Money for nothing and your chicks for free” as the song goes. So as armchair urban planners and social housing activists go on and on about building more “affordable” housing, don’t expect the construction industry in sign on and help out.
7. A big reason for the housing shortage in Seattle is Sound Transit. There’s a limited supply of tradesman, and it’s been a housing vs. subways struggle to hire for years.
4. Did you miss the 2008 recession?
5. I agree, within a certain time frame (say, since ~2017), but only if you are looking at ability to build X sq feet of development per time period. Zoning absolutely impacts the housing topography, and with looser zoning their would be more housing build out per invested labor hours.
6. What, do you think the suits get money for free and can pay back their loans at their leisure? They don’t get fixed rate 30 years mortgages.
7. That’s fair, at the big-project side of the market. But its’ the collective public spending, WSDOT, SDOT, etc., plus the robust private development pipeline, that is straining the region’s ability to construct.
I rode out the 2008 recession in property management. However the huge housing backlog before 2008 kept most of the construction industry working steady…. the folks who wanted to work. Went fishing a lot with friends on State unemployment…. after hanging sheetrock for 10 years, a break is in order. It would take a much bigger recession that in 2008 to stop the Puget Sound construction industry. However, 2008 did make a lot of smart folks in the industry decide to stay small and not expand. As long as the industry stays a certain size, it can weather a downturn. The bonus is if the industry is smaller and region booms like Seattle has, there’s $$$$$ for the same level of work. We’ve been in that mode for years now.
Changing the zoning could change the nature of residential construction in Seattle somewhat. Maybe we’d see a wave of single family homes come down and 4 and 6 unit building go up? A lot of smaller builders certainly can do that sort of thing and would like to. Would the units be affordable? Doubtful. Would in happen quickly? No, the construction industry would look at that as a 25 year project.
The suits are absolutely the problem to affordable housing…. always. I have family who built themselves houses from plans they drew up on graph paper. (in Montana). It’s really not all that hard to drive to Home Depot with a materials list and knock out a 1200 square ft. rambler. And houses like this is why America is why great. Want to convert an office tower to housing? That takes a hundreds of thousands of dollars of engineering….. before a bank even gets involved… and there’s a good chance the project doesn’t “pencil out” and never happens. Knocking out SFHs is way easier (and cheaper). Seattle’s homeless problem happened at the same time when every trailer park the Puget Sound was redeveloped…. and there’s no way to get any of that affordable housing back.
I really have no idea what’s going to happen to Seattle over the next 20 years…. Amazon and like have so much money, but the City has such big problems. I think poor Portland is already cooked– stick a fork in her, she’s done. Portland has high housing costs coupled with being the oldest, Whitest and most educated city in America. At some point there’s just not enough people left to fix toilets, hang sheetrock or make pizza. That sort of mess certainly is on the horizon of the Emerald City as well.
One last thing against Seattle’s future is the politics. Liberals, by and large, are college educated and shun construction jobs. Construction sites are full of mullets, big trucks and immigrants. It’s often a boom box war of Banda (Mexican) vs. Classic Rock! There’s a lot of diversity and it’s fun place to work. Seattle’s trouble is that Sunbelt is booming and all the Mexicans, Mullet Dudes, etc…. can pack up and work in Texas. A friend’s kid dropped out of college, took this truck and tools to Round Rock and 4 years later… wife + kid + house-with-a-30-mortgage. That used to happen in greater Seattle, but not any more. I honestly don’t see a future (or even a reason) for the working class to stay in the NW.
Good critique of how wealthy liberal cities hollow out the middle class. And yes trailers parks are an essential part of naturally affordable housing.
Re Tacomee’s comment: “If a Pierce Transit bus route had this sort of low ridership. it would have been go a long time ago.”
That might be true of Sounder North, but not Sounder South. Pierce County’s bus system averaged 16,300 riders a day in the Third Quarter of 2022, so Sounder South is equivalent to a third of that. That would definitely be a star bus route of Pierce Transit.
I wouldn’t know to look the numbers…. but what’s the ridership totals for Route 1 vs the Sounder (South) per weekday? Then what’s the cost per rider? I’ve always been a Pierce Transit supporter…. and anti-Sound Transit because the cost per rider of ST is always crazy. Poor Pierce Transit is underfunded because Sound Transit took all the money.
Pre-Covid Sound Transit funded ~40% of PT’s platform house. PT would need to mothball half of it’s maintenance & storage footprint without ST. I don’t understand how you can think ST ‘steals’ money from PT when it provides a massive subsidy by consuming 40% of PT’s fixed & overhead costs. (It’s the same with KCM with STX absorbing ~10% of fixed/overhead cost and with KC with Link absorbing a growing share of county overhead allocation).
In Seattle perhaps ST2/3 has distracted the city from bus efforts, but it’s hard to make that argument for PT. Without ST levies, PT would look like ET.
If you don’t think taxes for Sound Transit don’t make it way harder to raise taxes for Pierce Transit…. I’m not sure you’re living in political reality. Tacoma has something like 210,000 people in it now? Other than Amtrak, I don’t see any reason buses can’t work in midsize city like Tacoma. I wish ST would have never built that funky little waste of time called the Tacoma Link. It’s crap and everybody here knows it. Give that money to Pierce Transit for BRT and get a transit system that actually functions.
I don’t have a train fetish. I believe in holding government accountable. I understand that there’s always going to be a population that has no other option than transit and I think we need to stand up for them.
If we are taking about Sounder or ST express buses, ST ridership costs more per rider because the distances are generally much higher than the local bus service. In the case of Sounder, it’s really expensive to use the crews only once per day, and based on how expensive Community Transit is per rider, I’m not sure a huge number of equivalent one way peak period only buses would be to replace Sounder.
The streetcar…is a different matter.
“Poor Pierce Transit is underfunded because Sound Transit took all the money.”
Pierce Transit has also had a lot of management issues. Before 08, it covered a lot of the urban parts of the county and served them well. After 08, it went into a death spiral that it never recovered from. Many areas left the district (Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley, etc.). It’s also done a lot of bad in terms of frequency, no 15 minute buses anymore just 30 or 60 minutes. Along with ending bus service so early on many routes by 8 or 9 PM. Theres also pursuing a bunch of random pilot projects that went nowhere. Like the current PT Runner project, which I just shake my head in bewilderment at why that’s a thing instead of just improving overall bus service. They’ve done a few operational improvements I will say, like every stop is now announced instead of just important points on a route. But PT needs a management shakeup badly to fix its problems.
In terms of ridership, South Sounder had about 16,000 per day (prior to the pandemic) while the 1 had about 5,500.
Costs are much tougher to calculate. The farebox recovery rate for Pierce Transit as a whole is only 13 percent (as of 2016). The standard fare was $2.00. That works out to a subsidy per boarding of a little over $13. That is for all of the fixed route buses (the 1 likely performs better than that).
That is worse than any of the ST buses (before the pandemic). The South Sound buses tend to perform below the other buses, but even the 592 — the poorest performing bus — has a subsidy per boarding of a little over $10. The 574, 578, 590 and 594, are all between 5 and 6 dollars. ST buses would fit well within the range of typical Pierce Transit performance, if not being better than average.
It is hard (for me anyway) to find cost data on Sounder. There is a comment from 2012 that the subsidy per rider was $12.25 (for south Sounder) — https://seattletransitblog.com/2012/08/11/sounder-arrives-in-lakewood/#comment-240636. It probably went down from there, as ridership increased (and then went up again during the pandemic). Still, it isn’t crazy to think that it is still within the range of Pierce Transit, and may be considerably less than average.
That doesn’t mean that Sounder expansion plans are a good value. The Dupont extension is supposed to cost $30 per rider (https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/). Many of the park and ride expansions are similarly bad. Then you have Link to the Tacoma Dome. With a very optimistic 33,000 riders, you have a subsidy of $8 a rider. But I could see the numbers for that exceeding the average for a Pierce Transit bus rather easily. All it would take is less ridership and higher construction or borrowing costs (all of which seem realistic).
As for the politics, it is a mix. By being a regional agency, Sound Transit is carried along by its urban voters (mostly in Seattle). Thus Pierce Transit gets more *funding* than it probably would otherwise. That doesn’t mean the money is well spent. There is a very strong bias towards regional transit (which makes sense, since that is what ST is geared towards). There is also a very strong (and I would say, irrational) bias towards rail. This includes extending Link to the outskirts of Tacoma, and running a streetcar through it. Both are poor projects. I think it is highly likely that Pierce County would spend more money on its own transit if it wasn’t paying for ST transit.
But Pierce County has other problems. Much of the city lies in low density areas. These are areas that are very difficult to serve with transit (which explains the very low fare recovery rate). It seems possible that Tacoma itself will fund some of the transit itself, instead of being dragged down by the rest of the county (in the same way that Seattle pays extra for transit). Having Link (and to a lesser extent, Sounder) makes this less likely.
Pierce is able to tax itself to provide good STX and Sounder service only because it votes alongside King county. I don’t think ST taxes reduce the ability of Pierce to tax itself to fund bus service – rather, it is only when bundled into a regional transit levy is Pierce able to implement major transit taxes at all. A standalone vote in Pierce to fund something equivalent to ST Express service & Sounder would fail to pass. If Tacoma went on its own to fund bus service, with no ST network serving the rest of Pierce, it would operate a bus network smaller and less useful than the current PT + ST network.
What would transit look like between Tacoma and Seattle if there were no Sound Transit to run bus routes like the 594? Maybe Pierce Transit would fund a few trips during rush hour, during the midday, you’d be stuck riding an hourly milk run to an express stop served by King County Metro.
Tacoma needs sound transit, the problem is too much Sound Transit money being spent or rail, leaving top little left to run buses. Ideally, Tacoma would also have an ST express route to Auburn/Kent/Renton/Bellevue, places that are all very hard to get to from Tacoma by transit today. But, with so much of the Pierce subarea money sunk into rail, such a route will never, ever happen.
That is a very interesting post tacomee. For good or bad, I understand the issue from the suits’ angle.
When the interest rate for banks to borrow from the federal reserve goes over 4% mortgages for the best credit go over 6% and construction loans — in a good market — go to 10% at least, but usually the return needs to be 100% over the 5-6 year building cycle. Meanwhile, pension funds and investors can suddenly get 10–20% year with almost no risk over the next five years in fixed income when fixed income does not have fixed costs like insurance, property taxes, construction loan interest, and so on. Currently huge REIT’s like Blackrock are having record redemption requests, which are capped at 2%/quarter because construction is a long-term game, although selling projects comes with tax consequences, so the REIT’s tend to hold onto completed projects even when the market goes down. They just don’t build new projects because they know everyone is going to withdraw their investment as soon as they can because the line is so long to get out.
Then you have over $10 trillion wiped out from the stock market, $800 billion just from Amazon and Microsoft. I know a couple whose husband works at Amazon who recently sold their very nice house on Mercer Island to buy a tear down on the water planning to use stock to build a new house. With Amazon stock down 50% and paying no dividend they are stuck in a tear down for a very long time. That would have been a very nice project for a builder.
There are basically three types of builders:
1. The SFH builder who doesn’t do underground parking or elevators or steel frames. They can’t build rentals because they can’t tie up their capital for decades. As you note, subs have been very tight in the past due to the commercial development. During a down market these builders will do remodels and new construction financed by the property owner, or just hibernate because they learned their lesson after 2008, but the stock market is a huge downer in this region.
2. Multi-family builders who build up to 7 stories because after that you need steel frames. They need investors, or the investors hire them, because the capital is tied up for decades as rentals. Generally these investors are local. Don’t forget property values are marked to market each year telling an investor just how much they lost or made.
3. Large commercial and multi-family builders. In the past commercial development was much more lucrative than housing. These developments need offshore investment or Wall St. investment and are usually held in REIT’s. The investors don’t live here, and move to wherever the market is strongest, like Miami right now. This money pool has dried up. Their biggest concern right now is where will population and housing migrate to post-pandemic. They don’t have the luxury of an agency like ST to build where the folks ain’t.
What we will see over the next 3-5 years is a decline in numbers 2 and 3 above because prices are falling, borrowing costs are rising, and other less risky investments pay more.
[By the way, you don’t find a single progressive among any of the groups above].
So who is really pushing the desire to upzone the SFH, because it makes almost no sense from an affordable housing point of view:
1. The Master Builders Assoc., the Realtor groups, and labor who are doing it for the money.
2. Progressives who see SFH zones as privileged.
3. Some cities like Shoreline and Lynnwood that are depressed and need the gentrification, at least in the commercial cores.
4. Progressive legislators who have received a majority of their campaign donations from builders, realtors and labor, strange bedfellows.
The cities chafe at having the state tell them how to zone, especially since they have already zoned for and met their GMPC housing targets by upzoning their commercial and multi-family zones BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT THE PSRC TOLD THEM TO DO. These zones allow the scale to make large rental projects pencil out, allow regulatory incentives to obtain affordable housing set asides or fees in lieu of, allow a mix of housing sizes, AND ARE NEAR TRANSIT (which was important pre-pandemic).
There a lot ways a city can slow or stop multi-family in a SFH zone if they want to. They could just take forever to permit anything, like on MI, or the adopt new regulations They could require the property owner to live in one of the units if renting out another like MI and most cities do (which was the main fight by the residents of Queen Anne in their litigation with Seattle over upzoning). They can and will maintain SFH regulatory limits so total GFA/lot area ratios stay the same, including parking minimums BECAUSE THESE ZONES HAVE NO TRANSIT ACCESS. They will eliminate their ADU/DADU allowances that already allow two housing units/lot in lieu of a duplex. They will charge pretty steep impact fees on each unit. They will not allow the lots to be subdivided so one owner will have to build and own two units. Builders will run into very high property prices with very nice and expensive homes they will have to pay for to demolish to even begin building two or three units. Builders will have to build on spec which will be rental properties, each with their own kitchen, bathroom, garage, they can’t afford to hold which is risky in an expensive SFH zone. And so on.
So what will SFH builders do when the market recovers: probably build SFH homes on the expensive lots and use the upzoning for poorer neighborhoods like S. Seattle that have a high percentage of renters and where the land is cheaper which means less risk in a city like Seattle that won’t put up so many roadblocks to development, unfortunately for existing residents.
Mike asks what the risk is then to upzoning the SFH zones, which I suspect really is a form of class warfare because renters think SFH zones are privileged, and these people made a fortune just by buying at the right time which has some validity, at least the envy. What they really hope for is a lower rent, but that is not happening in a city with an AMI of $115,000. The only solution in that situation is to make more money unless you want rent control like NY and San Francisco.
The risk is this three-county region is so huge and so undeveloped but already zoned for housing and has such little population it is nearly impossible to create any kind of real urban density. I have never seen worse urban density than in this area, with a downtown core that is dead. Mercer Island is more vibrant than Pioneer Square, and Issaquah is more vibrant than anything in Seattle. The analogy I used before is apt and is how Europe created density: density is like a swimming pool: you build walls to condense the water so it rises and becomes deep. Without the walls (zoning boundaries) the water disperses along the surface. Old cities like NY with natural walls (water) condense and support transit. Newer cities like Atlanta don’t. Seattle became more like Atlanta than NY, just with a much smaller population.
There is no swimming pool in this region. Just surface water.
So why would any urbanist want to further disperse housing and population — which is going to be limited despite dreams of huge population growth — to the remote SFH zones with no transit they complain are the cause of the terrible density in this area to begin with? The answer is anger over high rental costs and the privilege of the SFH zones, which is understandable but not solvable by upzoning the SFH zones.
The SFH zones are not blameless either. They don’t want multi-family housing because they don’t want the people small units will bring: transient renters without kids. It will bring Seattle to their neighborhood they love more than anything, with more cars, fewer trees, more concrete, more crime, just like the multi-family zones in Seattle.
The sad truth as tacomee points out is based on all the variables, mostly high AMI, and some collusion, rents are not going down in this area. They will stabilize due to market conditions, and may stay more stabilized when the market returns, unless of course the region’s population of high earners increases at which point new permit applications and construction will tick up.
You covered the types of contractors really well…. there’s a lot of overlap however. Big projects need steelworkers but the rest of trades pretty much work every project big and small. I think home ownership is really important for social and political stability…. or at least local ownership of rental property. Foreign money can’t be good long term.
Tacoma went through a huge apartment building stage where a whole bunch of construction industry were “working for the Chinese”. After ’08 the Asian money just seemed to flow in and apartments got build (Yakima Ave was the epicenter of it if you know Tacoma… and around the Mall). Xi Jinping (the dude that runs China) actually spoke at Lincoln High School during this time. The (White) ruling class in North Tacoma tried to ignore it, the mostly Brown kids at Lincoln ate it up.
I went to City Council and asked if they thought it was a good idea to have so many apartment buildings owned by foreign nationals clustered in the same place. Maybe in 30 years our absentee landlords will have made back their investment and just let the whole place go to Hell? Got a lot of blank stares on that one…. and Tacoma has trouble with code enforcement on local mom & pop apartment owners!
“ 7. A big reason for the housing shortage in Seattle is Sound Transit. There’s a limited supply of tradesman, and it’s been a housing vs. subways struggle to hire for years.”
This was a product of building East Link, Lynnwood Link, Federal Way Link, Redmond Link and Hilltop Extension at the same time. However, with the current delays this won’t happen again and this is almost over . There is a bit of overlap expected with West Seattle and Tacoma Dome projects, as well as the not-fully-funded DSTT2 with Ballard Link timed with Everett Link construction.
I don’t blame WSDOT. There have been many more ambitious highway projects in the recent past. The big projects underway are 167, 509 and the end of 520 — nothing like pushing I5 through Seattle was, or even building the 99 tunnel with the 520 bridge at the same time. Plus, station tradesmen have closer overlap with housing tradesmen, while the highway tradesmen are usually more invested in earthwork. I guess concrete is probably the place with the most overlap.
I do wonder if The East Link mistakes would have happened had ST not had so much going on, and projects were staggered rather than simultaneous. They would have been more focused.
IMO the three main problems with East Link are/were:
1. Being the first agency ever to run four car trains at 50 mph with 8-minute frequencies over a floating bridge that was not originally built with the concrete density for light rail. Fingers crossed;
2. Running East Link all the way to Microsoft and then to Redmond, especially post-pandemic.
3. Running East Link along 112th through downtown Bellevue rather than closer to Bellevue Way which is the retail heart. I think Bellevue hopes to remedy this with driverless shuttles. I don’t see The Spring Dist. or Wilburton ever replacing Bellevue Way as the retail heart (and neither do the developers).
The cost to Redmond will be around $5.5 billion so that is pretty good, and the subarea will have around $600 million/year in revenue with only $600 million in debt when Redmond Link is completed. The final question is whether post-pandemic the demographic will use East Link.
I think there are a lot of people who agree with you on that third point. “East Main” is a terrible station — it makes more sense to have another downtown station on Bellevue Way. This strikes me as the East Side version of the First Hill fiasco. No good reason to do it this way, but too late now. Oops.
I don’t have a major issue with East Main Station, unlike others. I don’t see that Bellevue would have allowed high rises along Bellevue Way any further south than SE 2nd St. Plus, there is a pretty hard edge to stop density west of 100th Ave. A station there would not have a robust dense catchment area.
I think the bigger mistake is not pushing the tunnel and Downtown Bellevue Station to be under the BTC or maybe just west of the BTC.
Regardless, the general focus on regional shopping malls is increasingly less important. Just look at Northgate! Just look at Overlake! Just look at Redmond Town Center! Even Kemper Freeman is moving away from relying on regional shopping and is focusing new projects like they are a mixed use developer these days. I’m rather surprised at the rapid decline of regional shopping malls.
First off, the majority of Link stations aren’t in, nor do they need to be, in the “retail heart” of a town or neighborhood. Secondly, in the original East Link alternatives proposal, the line going up Bellevue Way didn’t have any stations in the retail heart of Bellevue. It had a station at Bellevue Way & Main, and then another station near the BTC. So a Bellevue Way alignment wouldn’t have been the game-changer everyone here thinks it would have been.
BTW, Daniel, how devastating is it to Mercer Island that Mercer Island Station isn’t in the retail heart of Mercer Island? I’m guess you would say not at all.
Had Kemper Freeman not gone on his stupid crusade against ST that might’ve been the route we would of ended up with. I still laugh at how that guy thought that defending his parking garages (which are very terribly designed, in my opinion) was a hill worth dying on. Along with how the Bravern has better link access than Bellevue Square does when it opens.
Sam, the East Link station is in the heart of MI’s retail district. The station (35’ below grade in the center of I-90) is less than one block from 27th, the main retail center. I doubt East Link will have a major impact on MI retail because so few come to MI for retail. Instead they go to downtown Bellevue.
When I look at the more successful stations in Seattle they are in retail cores.
Kemper Freeman didn’t go on a crusade against ST. He believes, as everyone does, that different densities require different transit modes. I think he believed that light rail wasn’t appropriate for the Eastside. Also, as far as not wanting a station or light rail near his property, there are plenty of other businesses that think the same. The UW didn’t want Link near certain buildings. Some Seattle Center-area businesses don’t want a Link station near them. Tukwila didn’t want Link near Southcenter. Some West Seattle residents don’t want a station or Link near them. CID doesn’t want a second station near them. Etc., etc.
Let’s put it to a vote. How many people here think Mercer Island Station is in the heart of Mercer Island’s retail district, and how many people think the station is on the edge of the district? If you aren’t familiar with downtown Mercer Island, look at a map. I vote for it’s on the edge.
Zach, you are correct that many mall owners don’t see transit as a benefit. The rep for Simon Group, owner of Northgate Mall, which is having great results in its U.S. malls, told the audience transit is how shoplifters get to his malls. Not a lot of progressives among mall owners.
To even have any chance East Link west of BTC was going to be underground. Jeez, ST tunneled from UW to Northgate, and plans to tunnel in Ballard and West Seattle, and those are B- neighborhoods and the subarea is broke.
102nd or 104th made the most sense but had to be underground. Westlake Center told Kemper he did not want a station with an entrance to his mall and did not want the years of station disruption, not unlike the CID. As much as some want to vilify Freeman or make this a white privilege issue the reality is retail and businesses prefer parking to transit. Like U Village. Based on the zoo I saw at Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square during the holidays Freeman is doing quite well. Way too crowded for me.
Sam, I am assuming you are not familiar with Mercer Island’s town center. The “edge” of the town center IS the town center. Even eastsiders will and can walk 1/2 block from the station to the main retail drag on 27th. What you will find is a Walgreen’s, small True Value Hardware store, Tabit Square with a Starbucks, Subway and terrayaki place, a sushi place, Pogacha, and that is about it.
People don’t take transit or drive to MI for the retail. There are two excellent grocery stores, but the folks who shop there tend to buy 8 bags of groceries so drive SUV’s.
It isn’t because of East Link, transit, or really MI which really has never coveted retail density or vibrancy. It is there are just so many better retail areas on the eastside, from Factoria to Issaquah to Crossroads to Redmond to Bellevue to Kirkland to Rose Hill ….
Probably not one single eastsider would feel aggrieved if MI’s East Link station was not close to the “retail” because they will never go to MI for retail, but they do feel aggrieved that it is not near Bellevue Square (at least those who take transit).
It had a station at Bellevue Way & Main, and then another station near the BTC. So a Bellevue Way alignment wouldn’t have been the game-changer everyone here thinks it would have been.
The South Main station sits very close to the freeway. The other direction you have land that is low density, and likely to stay that way. It is also not that far from the main downtown station. This means that ridership overlaps quite a bit. Add it up, and it just isn’t that good of a station.
Bellevue Way & Main has high density residential buildings as well as nearby skyscrapers. From a walking standpoint, there are no major obstacles in any direction. Most of what is nearby is already dense, and there is no reason why the rest of it wouldn’t become dense. There is a nearby park, which is diagonal and not adjacent to it. Likewise, Whalers Cove is far enough away that it shouldn’t interfere with the ridership potential. Meanwhile, it is considerably farther from the main station and diagonal to it. This means that there is very little overlap (if any). It also means that buses could go east/west or north/south, providing a small grid (instead of being forced to go to the one transit center that isn’t easy to get to).
So yeah, that sounds like a game-changer to me.
Ross, it’s pretty well known that the East Main village project lies between I405 and East Main Ststiom.
It’s well known that East Main Station is over 500 feet from I405 and there are no freeway . I have reasonable doubts that some development this ambitious would get built at Bellevue Way south of Main Street.
*… freest ramps on Main St taking up additional land.
Ross, I agree East Main is a worse station location than Bellevue Way & Main. Today, it’s a much worse location. 10+ years from now, East Main will look better. It still won’t equal Bellevue Way & Main, but it will be closer. A large development is planned for across from East Main on the sites of the former Red Lion and Hilton properties. Another large development is planned kitty corner from East Main on the site of the former Sheraton. And another project across the street to the north of East Main is currently under construction.
BTW, if Bellevue Way & Main is such a dense, lively and vibrant location, how come I rarely see people waiting for, or getting off the route 550 bus stops there?
Planned projects for across the street from East Main. 1, to the east. 2, to the northeast. 3, to the north.
Project 1: http://bellevue.com/article.php?id=430
Project 2: https://downtownbellevue.com/2020/02/07/over-one-million-square-foot-mixed-use-project-planned-sheraton-bellevue-site/
Project 3: https://www.bellevuedowntown.com/go/broadstone-bellevue-gateway
I’m wondering what examples you are thinking of when writing
“density is like a swimming pool: you build walls to condense the water so it rises and becomes deep. Without the walls (zoning boundaries) the water disperses along the surface”
Zoning boundaries are a recent phenomenon. Certainly dense European cities did not become dense because of boundaries. There were none, aside from the odd royal hunting ground that couldn’t be built on. Density has always been a result of transportation technology. Walking meant a walking city, something very dense. Railways and omnibuses expanded that, and trams still more. But it was the automobile that expanded transport scope dramatically and allowed low density cities. Before that, they just didn’t exist. And zoning regulation to prevent further sprawl was a result of seeing what an endlessly sprawling city was like. I agree zoning and boundaries exist now, but this still seem to be mostly engaged in limiting density not increasing it.
I can’t speak for Seattle, but certainly in nearly all of Vancouver you could build a 40 story residential tower and sell it immediately. I don’t think that this would necessarily be a good idea, but you could do it anywhere. It is only zoning restrictions that stop this from happening. If you lifted them entirely, you would probably see a strange pockmarking of sfd neighbourhoods with large residential towers. I repeat I don’t think that this would be a good idea, but this would certainly bring down prices as it saturated and then oversaturated demand. The whole idea of scarcity and “buy now or buy never” would be moot. Now these places wouldn’t be truly affordable until they got old, but they would get old, and then they would be truly affordable.
Another way of looking at this is seeing whether anyone builds anything less than the full allowed amount. In Vancouver for residential development this is never. This is so never that you could scientifically define the word “never” by how often it happens. Now I don’t know about Seattle, but I would find it hard to believe that very many developers are leaving floor area on the table.
Sam (and Al) — I understand that the area around East Main will grow. But it will never be a great station because of the fundamental issues with it. To repeat:
1) It is adjacent to the freeway. The freeway itself takes up a fair amount of space. Crossing it is also unpleasant and time consuming.
2) It is adjacent to a high end, low density neighborhood.
3) It overlaps with the main downtown Bellevue Station.
It is possible that they will add a lid, and the freeway problem will go away. It is also possible that the low density residential area will be upzoned. I don’t think either are likely.
As far as existing ridership goes, before the pandemic, about 250 people used the stop at Bellevue Way & Main, as opposed to about 1,200 at Bellevue Transit Center. But also consider that there were more stops. Bellevue Way & 4th had 350, Bellevue Way & 3rd had 150. That means that somewhere around 750 or so riders probably were closer to the Bellevue Way & Main stop. This is without the development that will likely come to that area, with or without a station there. Right now you can see that part of the block is being developed. For example, they are building this: https://vulcanrealestate.com/Properties/BellevuePlaza.aspx. If you compare the numbers, this is roughly the same amount of office space and retail on a lot less land than the project Al referenced. (There is probably less parking though.) It is not the only thing around there, and it is highly likely that the rest of the area is going to be developed.
My guess is the planners knew all this. They knew that Bellevue Way and Main would have been a much better station location. But they punted when things got tough. They threw in East Main because you might as well.
Many stations are adjacent to freeways. One can’t complain about East Main being next to a freeway, then ignore stations next to freeways like TIBS, Star Lake, Overlake Village, Mercer Island, Judkins, 130th Infill, Mountlake Terrace, Northgate, Redmond Tech, Shoreline 148th & 185th, etc.
And, many stations are also adjacent to single family neighborhoods. UW station near a single family neighborhood, and next to a no housing neighborhood. Rainier Beach station near a single family neighborhood. Beacon Hill station near a single family neighborhood. Stadium is next to a no housing neighborhood. SODO is next to a no housing neighborhood. Angle Lake is next to a no housing neighborhood.
So let’s stop trying to paint East Main as being this uniquely bad station location, or suggesting Surrey Downs is the only single family neighborhood next to a Link station.
– Sam. The comment section’s leading Mercer Island expert.
Daniel, Mercer Island station is not in the center of Mercer Island’s retail district, it’s on the edge of it. Even though you live there, you might want to look at a map.
Sam, even pre-pandemic East Link was going to have a hard time competing with cars for riders, especially intra-Eastside and non-peak. Post pandemic East Link is going to really have a hard time.
It isn’t as if eastsiders will grit their teeth when they exit East Link on 112th, next to some former hotels that had zero retail activity. They will drive instead.
Freeman is not an idiot. East Link or any transit is not important to him. He has massive amounts of free parking. I doubt Kemper is interested in a single member of this blog as a customer.
A point Ross has made before and is making again is retail follows retail, class A office space follows class A, class A urban housing follows class A housing. Someone deciding to live in a tower in Bellevue wants the same things anyone living in any downtown wants: walkable, safe, retail vibrancy. Otherwise they would not have sold their SFH. Not some sterile development along 405 in 25 years that in today’s market looks riskier than ever.
I find it amusing that some on this blog think East Link will magically make East Main or Wilburton or The Spring District vibrant retail centers when 20 years later after Link downtown Seattle retail is dead.
People on the Eastside don’t want more spread out retail. We have that everywhere in little strip malls. Since we are driving we just want one urbany classy area with real walkable retail density, just like most on this blog except we drive there. We WANT to be condensed when shopping and dining if we don’t like that in our housing. Basically we want everyone on the Eastside to have to go to the same place with easy and obvious parking to shop and dine because there just are not enough shoppers and diners on the Eastside for a lot of vibrant, walkable retail areas. We want the walks of the swimming pool. We’ve been to Paris and MY and London and San Francisco. Little strip malls are like retail water without walls.
East Link had three destinations: 1. downtown Seattle; 2. Microsoft; 3. Downtown Bellevue. (Redmond is too much like every other Eastside city to be a destination unless you live there). All three are questionable post pandemic. Who gives a s$&t if East Link directly accessed MI’s retail “core”. No one is going to MI to shop or dine.
I don’t know who is to blame. Al made a good point that ST did not understand how huge Eastside subarea ST revenue would be after ST 3 so Scrooged out on East Link because it really was about getting Eastside workers to downtown Seattle with huge park and rides. . Or Freeman didn’t want the disruption on Bellevue Way.
But in the long run I think Bellevue, Freeman and ST lose by not having a station or two close to Bellevue Way. No one can argue it makes sense to tunnel 60 blocks from UW to Northgate but not along Bellevue Way or 102nd in a subarea that will have $600 million/year through 2044 now. I would have much rather spent the $4.5 billion for Issaquah Link on a tunnel near it under Bellevue Way because Issaquah is a city you drive to and always will.
I think Bellevue will remedy this mistake with shuttles but too bad a remedy is necessary. Here we have the two great terminals of all Link: downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue — and one is dying and the other isn’t served. Seattle can reverse the dying part but you can’t move East Link.
The importance of a station, its walkshed, and distance from neighboring stations is all relative to the role of the neighborhood in overall trips. Downtowns need closer station spacing than non-downtowns. The variety of destinations determines the ridership level, breadth, and span. Hills make walking the same distance harder. Freeways, open space, and low-density neighborhoods slash the walkshed potential.
East Main Station exists to adhere to Link’s typical 1-2 mile station spacing. Bellevue Downtown to South Bellevue is 2.4 miles. Columbia City to Othello is 1.8 miles, and it’s widely believed it’s missing a Graham Station. Rainier Beach to TIB is all industrial and highway crossings, and it’s widely believed it’s missing a BAR and 133rd stations.
Earlier south Bellevue proposals had the intermediate station at SE 8th Street & 112th. That would have been more even station spacing, but would have missed downtown’s density completely. So it was moved north to Main Street.
Main Street to 6th is reasonable downtown spacing. North of Main Street goes uphill, so that limits the walkshed. I went down to East Main Station to check out the walkshed and destination potential from the north and west. There are hills both north and west. They’re small, but enough to diminish walking to some extent.
Destination potential gets into what the future buildings on 3/4 of the 112th & Main intersection will be. Based on existing precedents at Bellevue TC and on Roosevelt Way in the U-District, the new buildings will probably be more monocultural than Bellevue Way or the Ave. They may be just hotels, offices, or apartments, with token ground-floor retail, but not a wide variety of destinations like Bellevue Way or the Ave. A narrow range of destinations limits the variety of people who will go there. E.g., at Bellevue TC it’s mostly just offices, and the restaurants close at 3pm. So only office workers can go there, and they concentrate at 8am and 5pm weekdays. With hotels, only visitors go there. With a wide variety of destinations and housing on Bellevue Way, everybody goes there.
So East Main Station is limited in its potential by the freeway east of it, the hill west of it, the low-density neighborhood southwest of it, and the assumed monocultural density coming. But limited potential is different from no potential. A station is required for Link’s station spacing standard. With the alignment on 112th, there’s no better place for a station than Main Street.
Sam, I don’t think you are getting what I am saying. To have an “edge” of a retail area you have to have a retail area. The walk from the MI station to 27th is less than 1/2 the walk from Link to the Pike Place Market. I will have my wife measure it for you on her Fitbit
If there had been an East Link station on Bellevue Way (or 102nd) and NE 4th that is still a short walk to Lincoln Square south but no one would complain, because there is a retail hub to have an edge.
Transit is not like driving. Sometimes you are going to have to walk a bit. The whole point is a rider is taking Link — which has a fixed route — to walk around a vibrant retail area. Even if I drive to U Village I still have to walk farther to reach the stores than the station on MI is to 27th. The only difference is there is very limited retail on MI because there are so many better retail areas east and west of MI. MI is about housing, schools, and public safety.
If there are two points I think are important they are: 1. There are not enough people in this area to have vibrant, walkable (demse) retail everywhere so condense it; 2. although some of us don’t like dense housing (for us) everyone likes dense retail.
MI’s retail is what you need to survive: grocery stores, pharmacies, some fast food, dry cleaners. The station for East Link is irrelevant. We would like a nice restaurant but the reality is Islanders think the cost and hassle of a night out means Bellevue or Seattle because that is where lots of beautiful people are, and those two are tough to beat.
Don’t get hung up retail edges. The key is whether there is retail. I could walk ten miles in Paris and never complain about the distance.
“Freeman is not an idiot. East Link or any transit is not important to him. He has massive amounts of free parking. I doubt Kemper is interested in a single member of this blog as a customer.”
Kemper Freeman is one person. If his preference is bad for the Eastside overall, he needs to be overruled. In the Bellevue Square Link station controversy, it’s complicated, so there are factors on both sides:
1. Bellevue Square and environs has the largest variety of retail and housing in the Eastside, and a large downtown park. (+1 for a Bellevue Way station.)
2. 108th-110th has the highest height limit, both in the 1980s and now. (-1 for a Bellevue Way station.)
3. Density ends at 100th. (-1 for a Bellevue Way station.)
4. Kemper doesn’t want Link because it might get in the way of his car-driving customers or offend them. (-1, if you think this is a legitimate factor.)
5. 110th-112th grew in the 2010s, moving the center of jobs and density east. 116th and 120th also grew. (-1)
6. The growth at 110th-112th is almost all offices. The few restaurants close at 3pm and on weekends. This makes the area relevant to only a narrow range of people, and they only travel peak hours. (+1)
7. The Bravern is a counterexample of retail near the station. But its overpriced luxury items are of interest to only the narrowest range of people, who disproportionately drive. So it’s almost like having no retail in the station area. (0)
I’ve coded these +1/-1 but that’s just to show the direction, not magnitude. What matters is the size of potential ridership and serving a wide cross-section of society. All of these factors have different weights, and it’s a judgment call what the weightings are, and it’s not even clear they can effectively map to a linear scale. (E.g., #4 may weigh 0 or 1000 or -50 depending on how much clout you think Kemper should have.) Still, authorities must make a yes/no decision where to site a station, and these factors can help inform it.
Daniel, the first thing you said to me was, “Sam, the East Link station is in the heart of MI’s retail district.” Except, it’s not. The station is on the outer edge of Mercer Island’s retail district. You haven’t looked at a map of the area, have you?
What is the “heart” of retail Sam? What are you claiming is the “heart” of MI retail from a map of MI?
Is the CID station not in the “heart” of CID retail because I need to walk a block to retail. Same with the Pioneer Square station. The UW station is a block off the Ave. Northgate is a few blocks from the mall. What do you expect from Link. That the station platform takes you directly into a store. Even the Westlake station has a longer walk in the mezzanine to most stores than the station on MI to 27th.
I walk this route five days/week to and from work. Whether the 77th ot 80th street station entrance the distance is 1/2 block to 27th. Did you expect ST would deviate East Link from I-90 to access the “heart” of MI “retail”? Because the station was never about retail access.
I don’t get what kind of point you are trying to make. That MI’s station is somehow the equivalent of East Main and Main to Bellevue Way 10-12 blocks up the hill? I don’t see the equivalence, or the point you are trying to make. That I don’t understand a route I walk everyday or a town center I have lived near since 1970?
Mike, I think recent zoning changes increased height to 660’ including Bellevue Way. (Urbanism on steroids). Both Lincoln Square towers and the Hyatt are very tall.
Density will likely remain limited south of 100th on both Bellevue Way (there is retail/commercial south of Main) and south on Main and 112th. In any case the main stop would be on Bellevue Way and NE. 4th. Even a line along 102nd or 104th would have worked.
Development on 116th is across 405 and today is mostly car lots. Development along 112th has had little retail vibrancy.
I have never believed in the build it and they will come approach. Especially when it comes to retail, and the Eastside. Build it where they are.
This was just a foolish cost saving measure. East Link was always going to have a tough fight with intra-Eastside travel with cars. Dropping off folks going to Bellevue Way on 112th makes that fight impossible. Eastsiders didn’t go to East Main or the Main St station (including the Bravern which has no surrounding retail density) before East Link, and East Link won’t change that. People will choose destination first, and then mode, and prefer cars to begin with. Their lives won’t change. East Link has the burden to get them out of their car when parking is free. That seemed impossible enough, especially with first mile access, but dropping them off on 112th at best 3rd class retail is truly impossible.
The real question is whether shuttles to Bellevue Way make sense — at least for non work commuting — if everyone continues to just drive and ridership on East Link is inconsequential.
“Daniel, the first thing you said to me was, “Sam, the East Link station is in the heart of MI’s retail district.” Except, it’s not. The station is on the outer edge of Mercer Island’s retail district.”
Sam is splitting hairs to troll. It’s his particular talent. The retail district is the heart of Mercer Island, and the Link station is reasonably close to it given a suburban handicap. The real problem here is I-90, which cuts up the walkshed. Link is closer to the retail district than the existing bus stops are, because Link is in the middle of I-90 and the bus stops are on the far side. Walking halfway across the freeway is better than walking all the way across it. The entire retail district is small, so you can walk to most of it from the station. If it were a larger Seattle village I’d argue for a better location, but it’s a low-priority station in a car-oriented suburb, and it only exists because it’s on the way between Seattle and the Eastside.
Ideally I would extend the village to the north side of the freeway to put more businesses/residences within walking distance. And maybe put a lid on the freeway to reclaim the walkshed there. But islanders are against extending the village, and it’s a low-priority station, and you can walk from the station to several businesses and apartments, so good for that.
“You haven’t looked at a map of the area, have you?”
Daniel lives right there; he knows where the station is and the walking distance. He’s said he lives in a single-family house on North Mercer Way, within walking distance of the station and the businesses. You can give him an award for being an excellent urbanist, who walks his walk. (Maybe he’ll even put a solar panel or garden on his roof? :) So even if “The station is in the heart of the retail district” is inexact wording, it’s not worth splitting hairs over. (Not that that has ever stopped you before.)
Residential (both SFH and total) starts are down substantially in the West, so I am guessing there will be room on the couch for some construction folks looking for a break, as we see all of those residences under construction completed.
Some of the contractors who had been ghosting me on some work I want done have started reaching out. I am guessing most would prefer working over not working, no matter how comfy the couch.
Employment among construction workers was up, according to today’s report.
“5. Zoning doesn’t mean squat …”
To a construction worker or company, it may not matter where or which types of building get built. But it’s not right to dismiss the importance of zoning for everyone else, just because it doesn’t matter to you personally or professionally. All around the Lynnwood Link stations that are being built, I see a ton of housing (townhomes + apartment buildings) that have gone up or under construction. Without the upzones, it’s very unlikely that these housing units would have been built at all.
I think you are ignoring what is happening behind the scenes. Zoning has an obvious impact on low rise development. For example, in my neighborhood (in Seattle) I’ve seen this happen numerous times: Someone has an old house on a 25,000 square feet lot. The house gets torn down and they build three huge houses. The market is there for a lot more places to live, but the law doesn’t allow it (maximum lot size is 7,200 square feet). Down the street they allow townhouses, and sure enough, they build them. Similar amount of work, but a lot more places for people to live. Over the entire city (and all of the suburbs) this is happening. Large houses (or housing remodels) on large lots instead of apartments or townhouses. All because of the zoning.
I also think that it makes sense to look at things nationally. Somehow Amazon managed to hire a bunch of software engineers — way more than UW (or other local colleges) is cranking out. Obviously a lot of them came from other parts of the country. The same is true for the trades. I’ll admit, the only carpenter I know is from around here, but he is an old guy, like me. My bet is there are a lot of young people from other parts of the country willing to do the work, if it is available.
I’m not sure that the labor shortage in the trades is a big factor. People are saying that the office market is collapsing. Thus no one will build new office buildings. Wouldn’t that mean that there are lots of (local) workers available to build apartments? We may have a glut of office space, but we sure as hell don’t have a glut of housing.
I’m not saying that all of the work is the same. Working on a home remodel is different than building a skyscraper. But if Sound Transit construction has an impact on housing construction, there is certainly some flexibility in the type of work people do. Given everything that is going on, it seems quite likely that enough people can do the work, whether they are local or from some other part of the country (or the world).
So yes, zoning really does matter. So does the design review, and all the other BS paperwork that delays a project. These sorts of rules make it more likely that workers will work on single family homes (on large lots) which in turn means fewer places for people to live.
Let’s look at why we even have zoning. Zoning is protect people’s investments AND let other people’s investments make money. So zoning is always going to be about money. always. money.
I’m certain that Seattle will change its zoning and add more housing units in the future because there’s so much money in doing so. But what we’re looking at is decades of growth here… and the growth can only take place in a rising market. Nothing will get built in a recession.
At no point are the “powers that be”… homeowners, investors, politicians ever going build density so Seattle is a cheaper place to live. All the vested interests are on the same page here. The big real estate developers don’t build a massive apartment complex… right next to the last massive apartment complex they built 2 years ago…. if there’s any chance that would drop the market rate on the first building. It’s really about Maximum profit for minimum effort. It’s human nature.
“Let’s look at why we even have zoning. Zoning is protect people’s investments”
Zoning is to exclude people and density. In the 1880s developers started building greenfield neighborhoods with private covenants to exclude minorities and working-class people. The covenants prohibited apartments, food animals, and people of color. The streets were curved to be further from public transit. This was to ensure only the top 10% could afford to live there.
In the 1920s cities started using zoning to systematically create exclusive areas. They argued they needed to separate polluting factories and housing, but they went much further than that. They relegated working-class people to the industrial side of town, and in the other half of town they created exclusive low-density neighborhoods.
In the 1940s separation of uses reached fever pitch, so it wasn’t just commercial/multifamily and single-family areas, the commercial uses were separated into categories: offices here, theaters there, government buildings there, shopping there. So people would have to drive from district to district because everything was in separate districts.
The reason “why” we have zoning is traceable to not having noxious uses next to your property. The first codes separated slaughterhouses and steel mills from dense residential areas for example.
Heck, Euclid adopted the NYC zoning code (Euclid v. Ambler Realty) in their test case. Like there was going to be a skyscraper in Euclid!
No the use of more oppressive zoning restrictions arose over time as cities begin to use zoning for other objectives — like keeping minorities out of certain neighborhoods. I’m often amused at home many low rise apartments and corner storefronts were built with early zoning in place (like the 1920’s) where they would have been forbidden by the 1970’s — and yet there is never an uproar in those places to remove them. That just illustrates how obsessive zoning has become.
Zoning is a tool, although everyone tends to bring their own ideology to it.
It started because living conditions in cities had become unbearable because uses were not segregated, and because income inequality created slums and squalor, and many large cities were devegetated. Eventually the car allowed many city dwellers to just leave, and they wanted to make sure their new city did not repeat the mistakes that made them leave the big city. Meanwhile it was the big cities that fought for and embraced zoning. Zoning is not a suburban invention.
Today zoning has a lot to do with the region, and its total population because zoning is just a tool. Zoning is not much of an issue in eastern Montana.
First, traditional zoning segregates uses. You don’t want a pot shop next to a school, or a rendering plant in a residential neighborhood. You want parks and green spaces. In areas with low population like the eastside you want to condense retail and commercial space (building the walls of the swimming pool) to create retail density, because there is not enough retail to create density if like water it is allowed to disperse everywhere. Even if everyone drives they want the shops to be within driving distance. It is only in the last 10 years that anyone thought of downtown Bellevue as any kind of urban zone, thanks to Seattle’s demise.
Multi-family housing was zoned in the commercial core and around it BECAUSE THE PSRC told cities to do that. It is what Lynnwood and Shoreline are doing. Because there is transit, you can walk to retail, the lot sizes make multi-family development pencil out, allows different size units, affordable housing set asides, and gentrifes a city’s downtown. How many times do I have to repeat this. Read past PSRC vision statements. The PSRC got this one right, they just missed the pandemic. If every zone gets the same regulatory limits you have no zoning, and no control, and no vision for your city.
The reasons the rest of the eastside was zoned SFH are because: 1. that is what the folks leaving the big city Seattle were coming from (they owned SFH in Seattle); and 2. there was way more land than people so it was cheap which is why all the conditional uses like churches, schools and clubs are in the residential zone. Even today huge areas of the eastside, which today is wealthier than Seattle, has areas zoned for some kind of housing that are vegetated, because there are not enough people for the size of east King Co. that is larger than many Eastcoast states. No idiot would build a multi-family development in south Mercer Island back then. It was mostly woods. Still is.
The issue today is Seattle attracted a lot of high-income workers — which is good for a city — and that raised rents, and encouraged the development of expensive new units, which priced out lower income folks, called gentrification, which is just the market. For the very poor, 0-30% AMI, that is supportive housing. For 30% to 50% AMI you need some public subsidies. For 50% you need to either earn more or get a roommate. At 70% AMI ($115,000/year in Seattle) a person living alone has around $2100/mo. for rent, which is plenty.
You can’t have “middle housing” without zoning because middle housing is not as profitable as larger housing, so you need to EXLUDE uses and regulatory limits larger than middle housing from the zone. Builders and developers hate zoning, even in downtown Bellevue with 660′ height limits, because the zoning still requires underground parking, sometimes housing, retail, lot vegetation, and so on. Zoning is by definition exclusionary; otherwise you have no zoning, and progressives would not like that although developers would.
I am sorry rents are high for some in Seattle, but upzoning the single-family zones won’t change that, and neither will new multi-family construction. Builders and developers don’t like the poor. I have never seen zoning create affordable housing, unless you are talking about affordable set asides or fees in lieu of, or rent control. The best and fastest solution is to get a roommate and combine the costs of housing, but Seattle is unique in that as well since so many (over 50%) live alone which is why it leads the nation in micro-housing. Seattle is a very lonely city IMO.
“it was the big cities that fought for and embraced zoning. Zoning is not a suburban invention.”
True, in fact. Zoning and freeways started in New York City. It’s amazing that the city with the best transit and walkability also started the suburban ills, but on the other hand it’s natural: cities are where a lot of different people are together, so they’re where innovations tend to develop, for both good and bad.
“In areas with low population like the eastside you want to condense retail and commercial space … to create retail density”
You don’t have to artificially zone retail and density. Downtown Bellevue is at Bellevue Way between Main Street and NE 8th Street because Bellevue Way was a state highway and Main and 8th were the main cross streets, and it’s in the middle of the Eastside between the bridges. It’s a natural crossroads, and businesses located there because it’s where the most customers were and where they’d get the most visibility. They didn’t need zoning to tell them that.
Companies are not going to build highrises and shopping centers all alone in random isolated areas like mid Mercer Island or Newport Hills or in the middle of 132nd in eastern Kent. They’ll put them in strategic locations where they’re on the way for the most customers, and other businesses and housing will cluster together near them.
The most important upzones we need are expanding existing urban villages outward. Abolishing single-family zoning everywhere is more a matter of fairness (treating lots equally) than a belief or hope that density will occur in odd isolated locations. As a compromise we can simply expand the urban villages and fill in the area between nearby ones, and leave the rest of the single-family areas alone.
“You can’t have “middle housing” without zoning because middle housing is not as profitable as larger housing”
There’s only a finite amount of large housing that developers/customers are interested in. When that’s saturated they’ll stop. That’s still only a small fraction of the total lots. Middle housing will continue on other lots. Other lots will remain single-family. “Not as profitable” ignores the fact that only large developers can build or manage large developments or raise Wall Street financing for them, while there are many more smaller developers who might want a middle building here or there, something more to their scale and budget, and something they intend to live in or at least to to own for a hundred years.
“You don’t have to artificially zone retail and density. Downtown Bellevue is at Bellevue Way between Main Street and NE 8th Street because Bellevue Way was a state highway and Main and 8th were the main cross streets, and it’s in the middle of the Eastside between the bridges”.
Because the SFH zones did not allow retail it condensed in the city centers. Even then a lot of pretty wealthy cities like MI have poor retail and retail density.
“Companies are not going to build highrises and shopping centers all alone in random isolated areas like mid Mercer Island or Newport Hills or in the middle of 132nd in eastern Kent.”
Look at Vancouver and Honolulu.
“Abolishing single-family zoning everywhere is more a matter of fairness (treating lots equally) than a belief or hope that density will occur in odd isolated locations. As a compromise we can simply expand the urban villages and fill in the area between nearby ones, and leave the rest of the single-family areas alone.”
Upzoning SFH lots would likely increase their value so I don’t know who it is fairer to. The SFH owner I guess. Upzoning middle housing zones to UGA’s would also be fairer for the property owner.
Expanding urban villages does not build the swimming pool walls needed to create urban density. A Joy had the right concept: find the center of the zone you want upzoned and dense and expand that zone only as its zoning is developed and exhausted. When there is talk of infill development it means the boundaries were expanded before the zone was developed to its capacity.
I don’t care if we are talking SFH, duplexes, urban villages, UGA’s, downtown Bellevue, retail, until the zone is fully developed you don’t expand it because then you lose the facade density that creates walkable urbanism. Make the developers fill in the zone before you expand it if you want true walkable urbanism, something this region has done a terrible job at.
“Look at Vancouver and Honolulu.”
Where in Vancouver are highrises in the middle of nowhere without transit or retail? The clusters at Skytrain stations have first-rate transit so they aren’t isolated.
I’ve never been to Hawaii so I don’t know about that. We reported on a bus route to isolated hotels along the coast. That may be due to unique factors in Hawaii; i.e., being paradise, having a lot of hotels, and a car culture that made isolated hotels seem like a viable possibility.
You could also point to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. But again they have unique factors: more money than they know what to do with.
Edgar, where will all the folks come from to fill these new townhomes and apartments in Lynnwood? Where are they living today?
My guess is it will be a mix of people from Lynnwood as well as people from other parts of the region. Maybe a few from out of town. Same with any housing anywhere (whether it is a newly vacant house or apartment building).
Not sure where the buyers or renters come from, but the townhomes are getting sold and the new apartments are filling up. I assume the developers did their homework on forecasted housing demand. And if they are wrong, and at some point there are much less takers, then there will be downward pressure on housing prices. All good to me. I own a house, but I don’t mind less price appreciation of my property, if it means I’ll have a more vibrant, walkable neighborhood to me.
Thank you. Gated monstrosities looming over a lake are images out of Wuthering Heights.
We need a national property tax, abolition of the deduction on mortgage interest, and cancelation of the “step-up” in order to make the only value of home ownership the avoidance of rent in retirement which is inherent and non-trivial.
And a tax on empty units longer than 3-6 months, a restriction on foreign buyers, and a wealth tax to replace the inheritance tax.
The first two are to discourage investment that’s merely parking foreign wealth with no intention of living in the unit or renting it out, and are what Vancouver is doing.
The first encourages owners to lower the rent rather than holding units open a long time to try to get a higher payer. (That may be more of a problem with storefronts than apartments.)
The third would give a more predictable and reliable flow of taxes rather than the vagrities of when somebody dies and the risk they may use loopholes to avoid paying any tax on the inheritance. Thomas Picketty has an outline of this which suggests a tax rate of 1% of the inheritance tax.
I feel like Sounder S would be more useful to some if there was more consistent service. Chicago has a CREATE program in order to better separate freight and passenger traffic over time so that both needs can be addressed separately and more efficiently. The question is how much something like that would cost in capital expenditure and if we could ever consider it given our budget deficit
I think it would be unfortunate to waste Sounder S because of its great alignment running through the center of small and medium sized towns between Seattle and Tacoma. It will also be faster than link between Seattle and Tacoma (something that I can’t say about Sounder north, where north link just seems easier to work with).
I think until we can reduce conflict between freight and passenger rail Sounder S will be a good alignment hamstrung with poor service and unfortunately most solutions to fix that would probably require a hefty capital budget which doesn’t seem on the horizon anytime soon
Almost Live gives viewers a behind the scenes look at gated community of Broadmoor
[Ed: Deleted link because it won’t play embedded, and we don’t usually have embedded videos in comments (just text links to them). Search YouTube for “The Mystery of Broadmoor” to find the video. I’m not sure whether this is even on-topic enough to keep, but I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt.]
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