KUOW’s Week in Review podcast today discusses several relevant topics: Kshama Sawant will leave the Seattle city council this term to form a national movement. The state legislature is considering a wealth tax, a basic income for low-income people, and raising the minimum zoning in single-family areas. Possible zoning alternatives are 2-plex, 4-plex, 6-plex, either within some distance of major transit stops, or everywhere. Tech layoffs. Two of the panelists are Eric C Barnett (former STB author) and David Kroman (a Seattle Times transportation reporter).
Reece Martin has a video on Why buses in the US and Canada are worse than buses in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Australia. Not the routes and frequency this time, but the vehicles themselves. The answer is that due to North American regulations, the rest of the world has more bus companies and more bus types to choose from. Bonus: He calls articulated buses “bendy boys”.
This is an open thread.
161 Replies to “Open Thread: North American Buses”
T-Mobile should open a new store at the former Nike Store location. It should be a flagship experience store. If not them, it would be nice to see a Samsung Store or Google Store open on the block. Something for the techies of Seattle.
I’ve never understood why cell phone stores have such large stores for such tiny devices. They take up so little space that most of the store is empty. It seems like the companies just have too much money and want large window visibility. I can’t imagine what displays T-Mobile can make that would fill up a multi-floor Niketown space.
As for a Google store, do they exist? What would Google sell in a store? Commercial e-mail signups, advertisement spots, Android phones, VR headsets, and Google memorabilia?
I’m on the fence about Reece’s video. While he’s right about the regulations around American buses are arbitrary and weighed down by needing to be heavier than they need to be and true lack of competition with the duopoly of New Flyer and Nova. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call European buses exactly better.. in my experience, it’s really dependent on the region as to the quality of buses.
The Nordics in my opinion have good, comfortable, well thought out buses with good information screens.
Most of Western Europe is decent for buses, but I wouldn’t call it stellar other than they look prettier on the outside and somewhat practical in having fare readers on buses that are near the back doors as well as the front.
Eastern Europe I can’t really comment much because I only visited Poland but Kraków and Warsaw both had good buses including having onboard ticket machines.
In Italy, it’s a mixed bag. You have a mix of very old and very new buses, like the city where i lived was still running busses from the 80s or 90s in their fleet. Very hard seats unless you’re on a suburban bus, and not a very smooth ride as he claims European buses to have. It is definitely getting better as RATP Group (who operates the buses in the Tuscany region) is pushing for a fleet modernization with more new Citato buses to be added over the next decade. The one positive of Italy is their minibusses being really good, with a lot more smaller and practical vans or buses for traversing narrower streets and sharper curves than traditional buses. If you were to put it on a DART (900) route or even paratransit, it wouldn’t look out of place here. And probably be a better fit for said routes as they only need 10 seats compared to 20+ for DART buses currently.
People like to poo poo US buses for being overly utilitarian in nature, which is a valid complaint but at the same time, is it worth the investment into said better buses.if the differences feel very marginal in the grander scheme of things.
What the interior of the bus looks like is just so unimportant compared to the service fundamentals – how often does the bus run, how many hours a day does it run, does it go where you need to go, and how quickly does it get you there. I suppose the extra doors cited in the video does improve travel times by getting people on and off the bus faster – but only on routes which are relatively crowded, and the 3 doors common on many of the busier Metro routes, including all of the RapidRide routes, seems sufficient. It would be nice, of course, if all of the articulated buses had 3 doors instead of two, but again, that’s way below on the priority list compared to basic frequency and span of bus service.
The last time I was on the A Line, the front door did not open, and we had to board through one of the other doors. My door had a NextGeneration ORCA reader. I did not think to check the third door.
Google cancels plans for the 85th St Lee Johnson campus.
Does a BRT station there still make sense then?
I’m not surprised Google canceled the project in light of many employees continuing to work from home, their already large presence in Kirkland, and the recent layoffs of 12,000 employees. Still, it is a matter of time before something gets built there, even if it’s not office space. And, in any case, the BRT station is more than just access to the immediate adjacent property. It’s within a 10-15 minute walk of Google’s other two Kirkland campuses, as well as a fair number of homes, plus bus connection options with the 239 and 250.
The station is for the general Eastside transit network for the next several decades, not just for Google. For people working in Bellevue, shopping in Totem Lake, going to UW Bothell, or visiting the Kirkland waterfront. Google wasn’t there when the route was planned. If it doesn’t fill the space, some other offices or housing eventually will. 85th station is there because it’s the closest a 405 line can get to downtown Kirkland, and it’s right on a Kirkland-Redmond corridor for transfers. An Eastside of some 300,000 people and growing needs good north-south circulation, and good transfers to its largest cities. That’s what Stride 2 does, regardless of whether Google is at 85th or 68th or not.
It’s hard to imagine that NE 85th St makes sense for a BRT station. The topography of the area makes it unlikely to get dense or walkable anytime soon. It’s a major car artery that’s not likely to go away. Full of auto-dependent strip mall development on the east side and fairly steep and somewhat undevelopable on the west side.
There isn’t likely to be much service toward Seattle from this stop, so the destinations are Bellevue and TotemLake – Bothell – Lynnwood. And it misses downtown Kirkland.
It feels a little bit like ” We have subarea equity money, how do we spend it?” rather than is this is a high value use? It’s a lot of money to build a stop with limited use.
The west side has lots of stuff. A couple of big condo complexes, and if you walk a bit further west, Kirkland Urban. You also have the CKC, which you can take to a whole bunch more stuff. The stuff is not on 85th itself, but it is there. Even the car dealer is a potential ridership generator. When people take their car in for servicing, how do they get home?
The city is still considering a major upzone around the 85th station: https://www.kirklandwa.gov/Government/Departments/Planning-and-Building/Code-and-Plan-Amendment-Projects/NE-85th-Street-Station-Area-Plan they are also considering building a gondola to connect it with downtown / transit center / waterfront: https://www.kirklandwa.gov/files/sharedassets/public/planning-amp-building/station-area-materials/station-area-plan_transportation-comm-slides9-22-2021.pdf
“It’s hard to imagine that NE 85th St makes sense for a BRT station. The topography of the area makes it unlikely to get dense or walkable anytime soon.”
Kirkland is the second-largest city in the central Eastside so you can’t just bypass it. 85th is the closest possible station to downtown Kirkland, and a decision was made not to detour off the freeway to go directly to it. So a station at 85th is needed, regardless of the immediate station area’s potential. It’s like how 130th serves Lake City indirectly, because the line can’t serve it directly. It’s better to have the station than to serve the village in an even worse way or not at all.
And if you’re going to have a station, it should have real in-line stops and good transfers to the east-west feeder route. Thus the reason to improve the interchange. The fundamental problem is that metro rail or BRT right of way wasn’t included when the Eastside started growing in the 60s and 405 was built. So now it has to be retrofitted, and that means rebuilding the 85th interchange, and they still haven’t fully addressed access to downtown Kirkland. WSDOT probably added some things on its automobile wish list to the interchange project and that pushed up costs too.
However, Stride 2 is now expected to open before the interchange is rebuilt, so I don’t know if it will skip 85th or have temporary stops in the meantime.
So a station at 85th is needed, regardless of the immediate station area’s potential. It’s like how 130th serves Lake City indirectly, because the line can’t serve it directly.
Right, but there are problems with that analogy:
1) Cost/Benefit. This won’t get that many riders. One of the big advantage of this type of BRT is that you leverage existing infrastructure, thus keeping costs low. This does not.
2) Alternatives. The obvious alternative to a station is to run buses. Ultimately they would go on the exact same pathway as the BRT bus (for at least part of the journey). That again is one of the advantages of “BRT” style investments. Going from closed BRT to open BRT is trivial. You can’t do that with trains. Headway management is also trivial. Along the freeway the buses can be two seconds apart (instead of two minutes).
There are disadvantages. It costs more to run the buses. Theoretically, you would have two sets of buses. One from Totem Lake to downtown Kirkland (via the freeway) and another from downtown Kirkland to downtown Bellevue (via the freeway). They could extend on either end as well. In one way it is better — you have fewer transfers. Someone going from Lynnwood to downtown Kirkland would still have to transfer, but someone going from Totem Lake to downtown Kirkland would not. But again, the drawback to this approach is cost.
Thus the best way to think of this is as a labor savings improvement. That is always a good idea. It is like making the 40 or 44 faster. Not only is it better for riders, but Metro saves money. This then goes back to the capital cost. This is a fundamentally good idea, but once you look at the cost, I don’t think it is worth it. There simply won’t be enough riders to justify the very high cost.
Downtown Kirkland is too far away to be served by NE 85th without either a circulator bus or a connecting bus. It would not be efficient to go to Bellevue via this station, instead there will be direct bus service from Kikland Transit Center to Bellevue. The apartments further down the hill are also too far to walk to this station and it’s an inhospitable pedestrian environment. While the Lee Johnson site could be developed, there is unlikely to be much dense residential development in the walkshed.
The expense of this NE 85th station seems enormous compared to the transit service benefits it will provide.
The dealer takes them or lends them a car.
WSDOT wanted to rebuild the interchange as a part of the 405 Master Plan, so might as well make it useful for transit and not just an HOV access point. It is unfortunate that ST got stuck with 100% of the interchange rebuild cost and not 10%, but that’s a sunk cost at this point, and WSDOT is on the hook to maintain the station going forward
Rose Hill should be a good neighborhood in the long term, though Google pulling out is certainly a setback in the short term; there is some good development still proceeding a block further east. 85th/Redmond Way should be a frequent bus corridor for the east side, with Kirkland & Redmond downtowns as good anchors.
NOVEMBER 4, 2022 AT 8:13 AM
I wouldn’t be surprised if Google cancelled the project.”
“What the interior of the bus looks like is just so unimportant compared to the service fundamentals ”
Yes and no, passanger comfort is an important factor to the overall rider satisfaction, and that doesn’t mean just cushy seats.
It can mean LCD passanger information screens that provide next bus stop information like transit connections, important landmarks like social security office, colleges, government offices, etc. Which was common on buses in Germany and Sweden in my experience.
Fare readers at multiple doors to provide faster loading and unloading. Door request buttons on articulated buses, which I saw in Copenhagen to allow the bus driver to only need opening one or two doors on request instead of every single door.
Seat layout, to provide the right kind of passanger comfott for said route. Longitudinal for heavily used routes with people taking short distance rides of a few blocks to 2-3 miles. Or more coach like seating for suburban routes where the ride may be 30-60 minutes+.
Also ride quality as well, some of this is good quality roads. Sone of it is under the hood work to make the bus not jolt and shake so much when in motion.
All these factors are small but do add up when cumulative to improve rider satisfaction.
I’m not saying that seat layout, information screens, comfort, etc. don’t matter. I’m just saying they are less important than the desire to spend 3 minutes waiting at a bus stop than 30.
If you imagine two routes serving the same street, one which runs frequent service, the other with comfortable buses, people will hop on whichever bus comes first nearly every time, even though the bus that comes first will most often be the less comfortable bus. (This scenario can sometimes exist today when Metro and Sound Transit buses run a nearly identical route, particularly during rush hour).
All those things are specified by the transit agency/customer, not the bus manufacturer. If these are the things that make European buses better, then it is the transit agency’s fault, not the bus manufacturer, for not including them. My suspicion is that it is the poor condition of American roads that make bus riding unpleasantly bumpy, not the vehicles themselves.
Make sense? Did it ever make sense? A similar center access project was canceled from Sound Move, 1996; ST used the funds for four other Kirkland projects: a new KTC, the TLTC, the NE 128th Street freeway station and center access ramps, and pedestrian infrastructure on NE 85th Street. It is very difficult to get pedestrians to/from the center of a freeway. Freeways are to pedestrians as dams are to fish. Freeways work okay for fast long distance bus routes. Putting pedestrian access in the midst of a full interchange is difficult and costly. ST is throwing lots of money at the issue. I suspect a more cost-effective center station could have been placed at Houghton. Downtown Kirkland and Google would have been served by an improve Route 245. Now that it is being provided, the network challenge will be use it effectively. The transfers between Stride and local routes will b awkward. With more service,, the transit agencies could also consider a direct route connecting KTC and BTC via the I-405 HOT lanes. A temporary Google setback is not sufficient reason to question the project.
The 85th St. interchange is supposed to be rebuilt with greatly improved sidewalks. These sidewalks will also be useful for just general trips across the freeway, even for people not riding the bus. Yes, there is the 80th ped bridge, but for some destinations such as Costco, 85th is better positioned, particularly if your come is just north of 85th.
Rose Hill resident here. They are planning to build a mixed-use housing/retail/business complex where the Petco and Dollar Tree are and where the Outback used to be. Add that to the Lake Washington High students who use Metro instead of the school bus, and whatever takes over the Lee Johnson property, and there will be some regular usage of that 85th. Street station. Commuters to Seattle could also leverage some use of the Houghton Park-and-Ride, which is a reasonably close (albeit at grade) walk away.
They’re also trying to add more density activity to 85th. in general, with mixed-use development at the lot where Waldo’s Tavern and Baskin-Robbins were (the complex was destroyed by an electrical fire a handful of years ago), and another further east near where 85th. becomes Redmond Way. I’ve also heard of plans for multi-unit housing on the Tech Bowl property at Bridle Trails.
I do concede that the 85th/405 BRT stop seems like a bit of a reach, and my neighbors tend to oppose increased density (they think that density means traffic, noise and crime, all of which are why they prefer suburban life instead of city living). But if it helps more people in Rose Hill to access Seattle and Bellevue via public transit, and especially Link through the stop at Bellevue Transit Center, that’s not a bad thing. I myself could walk to this station.
“they think that density means traffic, noise and crime, all of which are why they prefer suburban life instead of city living”
Ha ha ha ha ha. And they live next to 405! Do they not count the traffic and noise there?
@Mike Orr: No, they don’t. There are concrete noise barriers near 405, so we don’t hear freeway traffic noise. And the only traffic jams we get are some two- or three-cycle traffic light waits at commute times. So it’s still a reasonably calm area, other than the occasional fire truck or ambulance.
On Thursday, Jan 19, starting at 9pm Link service was reduced to every 30 minutes along the entire line due to track maintenance between Rainier Beach and Tukwila. The announcement came out around 7pm and stated:
1 Line will operate every 30 minutes to accommodate track maintenance .
1 Line will be single tracking between Rainier Beach and Tukwila International Boulevard stations tonight, January 19. This single tracking event will be in effect beginning at 9 p.m. to the end of service. Due to the single tracking, trains will be running every 30 minutes. The track maintenance will not affect station platforms.
30 minute service continued when service started Friday morning. At 6:43am ST sent the message: 1 Line experiencing significant service delays this morning as a result of track maintenance that has concluded.
I don’t know what the track maintenance issue was.
Sound Transit does not exhibit or perform the culture nor the objective to keep as much Link service running as possible. Link was built with multiple crossovers which allow reversing trains at many locations, and in particular there is a facility at Rainier Beach station. It is possible to maintain 10 minute or 15 minute service between Rainier Beach and Northgate, and either send every second or every third train to Angle Lake while reversing the others, or else reverse all the trains at Rainier Beach and operate a 30 minute shuttle to Angle Lake.
Given that many buses in the north end and Eastside are designed to connect to Link to complete the ride, and Link is the spine of our transit system, it represents a disdain for riders and a lack of commitment to provide service to reduce Link to 30 minutes along the whole length of the line when there is maintenance being done on only one segment that is near the end of the line.
It calls into question the entire premise of truncating buses to connect to Link when there is no commitment to keeping Link running as much as possible.
Where is Sound Transit’s leadership and board on demanding higher performance from its operation?
Well, not truncating the buses would mean lots more money and bus driver time driving down I-5 and slogging through downtown. It would have to be paid for with big frequency reductions across all bus service. For example, bus service across north Seattle ran far less often when so much of the service money had to be sucked into sending the 71, 72, and 73 downtown. In the case of the 255, not truncating it would add a minimum of 30 minutes of travel time to reach not only the U-district, but also most of north Seattle.
The right solution is for Sound Transit to keep the trains running, not Metro basing its bus network on a premise that Sound Transit can’t be trusted to keep the trains running. Hopefully, the 1 and 2 lines combining will help somewhat with this.
That’s the point I wanted to make so maybe I didn’t make my point clearly. We’ve truncated buses and rely on connections to Link. There needs to be a commitment to keeping Link running at full strength. Sound Transit needs to do everything to keep Link running on the 8-10-12-15 minute schedule, even when they do maintenance. We spent the billions on infrastructure with lots of crossovers and turning facilities. It’s irresponsible to put the entire line on 30 minute headways when they do maintenance on one segment. The fact that it is at night actually makes it worse not better because you may to wait 30 minutes for a bus after the Link ride and there wasn’t even a schedule for the 30 minute Link service.
I got caught in a Link interruption Wednesday evening around 7pm. I was shopping at Uwajimaya and just missed a streetcar to Capitol Hill so I went down to Link, figuring it would be a shorter wait (and I didn’t trust the streetcar’s One Bus Away because it was wrong about the train I’d seen). I should have waited for the next streetcar. I waited for Link some 20-30 minutes, and near the end it started announcing that Link was interrupted and trains would resume shortly. “Shortly” can mean anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours, so I looked in Google News to see if there were any articles about a Link outage, but there weren’t. Eventually a train came, after I’d been there maybe 30 minutes.
No, ST doesn’t go all the way on Link. When there was station maintenance in Rainier Valley last year, ST said it would run the entire line every 20 or 30 minutes. There was a large pushback, including by STB commentators who wrote to ST, and ST reversed course and maintained normal frequency north of Stadium. I’m surprised ST would reinstate a plan it had rejected the last time. It may be due to the difference between weekday/daytime demand and weekend/evening demand. ST probably assumes it’s “just an evening”.
Yes, this causes problems for bus truncations. That was most manifest with the 255 in 2020. It was truncated at UW Station, but then covid hit and both Link and the 255 were reduced. Link started running every 15-20 minutes weeidays, and 30 minutes weekends. The 255 went down from 15 minutes to 20 or 30 if I remember. So in a worst-case scenario you could end up waiting for an hour if you just missed both. That went on for two years, until ST and Metro eventually increased service again.
I also remember wanting to go to Kirkland one Saturday when they were reduced. I took Link to UW and waited for the 255. The display said a bus would come in a few minutes, but then it disappeared from the display and the bus never came. Later the next bus appeared on the display, but after a few minutes it disappeared again. I decided I didn’t want to go to Kirkland after all, because I didn’t want to be stuck there for possibly hours if the same thing happened on my return.
I doubt that we will ever see the following data, and it’s skewed because of Covid, but I would love to see how much route 255 ridership is completely gone. Route 255 was once a core Eastside route operating every 15 minutes daytimes and up to every 6 minutes peak times. The promise was 15 minute service evenings and weekends for the truncation (although that promise has already been reduced to 20 minute service evenings and weekends and we see a fair number of trip cancellations every day on the 255 peak hours.)
The direct comparison that could be done is to compare route 545 ridership to 255 ridership. My experience is that route 545 ridership has come back far more than route 255 ridership. Route 545 buses are sometimes full, and rarely less than half full, while most 255 runs seem deserted. Comparing the 1999 ridership numbers to the current ridership numbers ought to give reasonable insight. My impression would be that route 545 is up to 60% or 70%, meaning similar to the rest of the system. And route 255 is at best 20% of former ridership. I would love to see the ridership numbers as well as documenting the platform hours being used. I bet the savings on platform hours aren’t great given the routing to layover space in U-District. And so the riders to platform hour are probably a disaster for route 255. Which means that eventually the frequency will be cut since ridership won’t justify it. And Kirkland got screwed out of transit service.
My observation is that the 255 has recovered a lot since last year. Not all the way to pre COVID levels, but certainly well more than 20% of that.
It’s not clear that keeping the old 255 would have helped much. The 15 frequency existed only weekday daytime hours. Weekends or evenings, it ran every 30-60 minutes. Frequency cuts in response to the driver shortage would have had to have happened anyway, so maybe with the old 255 routing, the entire Sunday service would have been reduced to once per hour. Meanwhile, the old routing, while making it a little bit faster to get downtown, would have come at the cost of making it a lot slower to go to anywhere in Seattle not downtown.
Also, the new 255 will get quite a bit better once the 520 construction finally stops. That Montlake HOV ramp, in particular, will save passengers a lot of time.
The vast majority of my personal usage of the 255, I am not going downtown, and having to ride the old route would have made the trip nearly unworkable.
You illustrate a key problem in the local area, namely that the region has historically underinvested in rail transportation.
Other regions that have a more robust rail system can perform maintenance like this without impacting the entire system.
Either one line operates at reduced capacity during the maintenance while the rest of the system stays unaffected, or they just shut the line down and expect people to detour around the blockage using rail.
This happened to me a few times in London a couple of years back. They just shut that section of line down, and the passengers backtracked to a ring line and went around the blockage. Worked great!
The same thing will eventually happen here too. The more we build out rail, the more options we will have for dealing with construction issues.
But it sounds like your experience wasn’t that bad anyhow. Glad it worked out.
Rainier Beach has a complete turnback facility. ST could totally have operated Rainier Beach – Northgate on the regular schedule while sending every 2nd or 3rd train to Angle Lake (depending on 10 or 15 minute core frequency) and turning back the other trains to maintain the core frequency. Or they could have turned all the trains from Northgate at RB, and run a shuttle between Angle Lake and RB. The Link line was built with a ton of infrastructure that allows for a lot of operational flexibility. But apparently operations management hasn’t been given the mandate to keep it running. There is something wrong that the goal isn’t to keep the standard frequency running on as much of the line as possible when there is maintenance. In addition, they really ought to aggregate work shudowns to the greatest extent possible. There have been multiple shutdowns to do work on electrical in the core tunnel, build the new tail track, connect to East Link, where if there was a mandate to reduce service disruptions, more of that work could have been coordinated to happen at the same time.
Until ST puts wearing masks in the passenger code of conduct or at least requires staff to wear masks around passengers, the notion of ST giving a darn about safety rings really hollow.
Even at 30-minute headway, there was probably enough capacity in pre-pandemic mode, but I would have looked for alternate options or maybe even hailed a cab.
Hardly anyone cares about masks anymore. If anything, a mask requirement would hurt ridership more than help it, as far more people are done with masks and find them a nuicence than still worried about the disease.
Several countries did contact tracing and did other research into the spread of the pandemic. In France, they never traced any mass spreading events to public transit, and it seemed to be about as safe as grocery shopping in terms of transmission.
The 30 minute headways for maintenance had nothing to do with safety, but all about ST not knowing how to maintain minimum accepted service levels. Not sure why you’re bringing masks into this one.
For a while any congregate gatherings were prohibited. Transit continued to run for those who had to use it, which authorities now believe is a litmus test for transit equity, which I can understand.
When everything was closed transit was obviously going to lose discretionary riders. Offices were considered as dangerous as transit.
The difference is post pandemic workers discovered they didn’t like commuting to work which is uncompensated time, and the WFH infrastructure and acceptance was forced onto employers.
I don’t think riders today think transit has a higher risk than other congregate settings. It is just that work commuters are no longer commuting on transit to work.
The rest of society has opened including transit. Just look at the football stadiums on tv. People ride transit or drive because they need or want to get someplace, and choose the mode that is more convenient.
. Even pre-pandemic 90% of trips were by car. Post pandemic with WFH, free parking in most places, and less traffic congestion that won’t change except the work commuter is at home, rather than on the roads or transit.
The main implications are lower gas tax receipts and tolls and farebox recovery which goes to future capital projects and maintenance when tax revenue and stimulus are declining. .
The point of masks relevant to occasional high headway on the 1 Line is that, for those of us still making an effort to avoid getting and spreading COVID, the conditions go from requiring effort to find a safe spot on the train to hopeless. Buses are actually more spacious still, and usually just require standing up for the duration of the ride to avoid the line of fire from other passengers’ exhalations. The price is a little bit of nausea, but I’ll take that over losing a week of work or risking being one of the numerous daily breakthrough cases.
The 1 Line is the overwhelming majority of Sound Transit’s ridership. You’d think the board would make at least as much effort protecting the health and safety of riders in a pandemic that is nowhere near over as they do protecting themselves from the public at their zoom-in board meetings.
The fact that many feel comfortable going maskless in crowding public settings doesn’t erase the existence of those who don’t feel comfortable being around them. But I’ll reserve my seething for the Board, the people who could do something to make it clear that lots of people who need to ride are not okay with the masklessness.
Sound Transit was designed to pass ballot measures rather than to run a transit system. It’s a fundamental structural organizational problem.
Add this situation to many others. There are many issues that occur. ST hired someone who never built rail or operated rail to be the new CEO. ST relies on other agencies to find drivers. New escalators are failing. The East Link delay was known for years but the public wasn’t told and action should have occurred at least 1-2 before it did.
The agency got their ST3 pot of gold. I don’t know why the Board keeps talking about having a consensus builder as the primary quality. Consensus to do what? They need a CEO that knows how rail operations work, knows how to manage buildings with escalators and knows how to light a fire under staff to quit making excuses and ruining rider experiences.
Just last summer, the Columbia City Station tile replacement delayed service to 20 minutes four two sets of two weeks. It could have been done at night or over two weekends. Instead they announced they needed a total of four weeks to get the work done. And they completed the job in 6 working days — or in 48 hours with the crew they had. Any other system would have picked a three day weekend and had 3 crews doing the work 24 hours a day between Friday night and Monday morning.
Anyone who has lived in a rail city and using trains daily knows when things are bad. ST is bad at management, even though their PR is that they are stars. It’s a self congratulatory party with the Board. It’s a version of the Twilight Zone.
“I don’t know why the Board keeps talking about having a consensus builder as the primary quality. Consensus to do what?”
The nature of the Seattle Process, concensus through exhaustion.
I interpreted it more as interpersonal harmony rather than policy consensus. Rogoff’s reputation was being a hotheaded leader, abraisive to staff, and increasing tensions between the board, staff, stakeholders, and between departments. The board was trying to find somebody the opposite of that.
But yes, the board focuses too much on having a CEO who’s a PR and accounting expert rather than on somebody with technical experience managing the large urban rail systems that we should be imitating and learning from.
Carl – This was not a preplanned track work, but emergency track work. If anyone who took LINK on Wednesday, Jan 18th, faced single tracking between the same area. It did not help reducing service on Thursday, Jan 19th and a Kraken game in process. Yes, ST needs to work better on their social media and service disruption notifications. Here is the tweet that showed why ST had to reduce service. CRACKED RAIL. https://twitter.com/SoundTransit/status/1615887247349354496?s=20&t=z97AaMOll7Wabh03Lfc_bw
At least with Link being built so far above I-5 they don’t have to worry so much about stray sofas, stray BMWs, or much of the other crap that has wandered off the freeway onto MAX tracks over the years.
Apparently there was a large crack in one of the rails near TIBS:
I have no idea why they couldn’t just turn back trains at RBS and run shuttle buses for RBS-Angle Lake, though. It seems like that would be a great question for the board and the new CEO…
Eventually, ST and TriMet should probably rebuild one of the old MAX cars into a track geometry car and just run a good inspection once a month or so and send the car between the two agencies. They’re expensive, but BART recently got one for its unusual system.
Warren Buffett is not a fan of a proposed streetcar network in Omaha ($).
To me, rail needs to be faster, more frequent, address crowding issues, or serve more areas than equivalent bus routes to justify its higher cost. Link is faster than local buses, has more stations than express buses, is longer than some routes it replaces (creating more one-seat rides), and is more frequent full-time than any bus route. That makes it qualitatively better and more useful than the routes it replaces, and gets us closer to a European kind of transit network where transit is more competitive with driving. In contrast, the SLU and First Hill streetcars are no faster or more frequent than parallel bus routes, and high capacity isn’t needed. So the streetcars’ higher costs just suck service hours that could have gone to more miles of frequent bus service. This is in the very definition of a streetcar in Seattle/Portland: light rail is mostly exclusive-lane or grade-separated, while streetcars can be largely in mixed traffic. That right there makes streetcars not worth their cost, and why Europe stopped building those kinds of streetcars decades ago.
I don’t know the specifics of Omaha’s plans, but Omaha has wide streets with probably relatively little traffic. So it might give them exclusive lanes, or it could run a robust BRT system in that environment. Another issue would be whether it connects the major walkable destinations and neighborhoods that non-drivers want to go to, or does it just have some arbitrary route that doesn’t meet transit riders’ needs?
When I look at urban rail investments, I first look at existing demand then I look at parking cost and difficulty along the route, particularly in a Downtown. I put less importance on being an alternative to traffic congestion.
A 20 story residential tower surrounded by free parking or a 20 story office building with a free or cheap parking garage by itself won’t bring out many riders.
I read the article. It’s extremely sloppy journalism. No maps showing the route the streetcar would actually take, and no mention whatsoever of parallel bus routes.
Doing some digging on my own, however on Google, it turns out that downtown Omaha already has several bus routes, one of which is a BRT route that runs every 10 minutes weekdays, 15 minutes weekends, and 20 minutes evenings. The proposed streetcar route would run exactly two blocks south of the BRT route. These are short blocks, about 400 feet each according to Google Earth, so a walk between the routes would take all of about 3-4 minutes. Also, the same street proposed for the streetcar actually has another bus route on it; it runs less frequently than the BRT of course, but that frequency could almost certainly be increased for far less money than it would cost to build the streetcar and operate it.
But of course, the article acts as though the entire Omaha bus system does not exist and creates this false choice that the only options are to either build the streetcar or rely exclusively on private cars and taxis for the streetcar corridor. And, of course, individual’s yes or no votes are predominantly determine by general support of public transit vs. cars and nothing whatsoever to do with whether the proposed route actually makes sense, given the surrounding bus network.
The argument of economic development as a justification, independent of ridership, also falls apart if you think about it. The value of the streetcar to surrounding buildings is fundamentally the mobility it provides. If it provides very little mobility compared to existing buses, it adds very little value, unless of course, the intention is for the streetcar to be something you drive to in order to watch it out the window or ride it in circles back and forth for the thrill of a train ride. The exact same argument was made to support the SLU streetcar here and, yes, the area did boom, but correlation is not causation and with the streetcar’s ridership being just a tiny fraction of the buildings’ occupancy, it is obvious that it is just a coincidence.
All in all, this proposed Omaha streetcar just smells like another CCC in another city. But, given Omaha’s presumably smaller tax base compared to Seattle, the impact could be worse. A transit system encumbered by streetcar debt for the next 30 years could really hamstring the city’s bus system.
Reece Martin put out this video on Saturday:
In it, he specifically points out that ST should have looked to having shorter automated trains. For those people who think that the vehicle type shouldn’t be questioned, he is just one of many to say that it should.
I wouldn’t be against going the Copenhagen or Milan route for some Seattle specific extensions. Like if we built a line connecting the Ferry Terminal/Waterfront to East Seattle like Madison Park via First Hill. An automated light metro would be a good fit. Same with WSBLE, it’d address the station box issue and would probably make some stakeholders less cranky about disruption hopefully.
To supplement Martin’s article
So I guess Smith Cove is dead?
Federal Way to bulldoze a park ($) near its future Link station and downtown. Some neighbors are opposed. The park is north of the existing transit center behind a school.
The idea that you don’t need a park there if there’s another park three miles away is a very car-headed way of thinking. I’m their mind, every trip is a car trip, so it’s just a matter of having to sit in a car an extra few minutes.
But, if you don’t have a car, switching to another park means switching from a 10 minute walk to either an hour long walk or a ride on a bus that runs once per hour. Park space is something people should be able to walk to from their homes, not have to drive to get there.
Also, a parks department maintenance facility is a terrible use of land right next to a light rail station. It is obvious that the city is penny pinching and they really should either find another site or make do with what they have.
I don’t think this this project has anything to do with cars. It is a municipal maintenance center.
We have fought this for 30 years on MI: councils think park land is free land.
The most hypocritical are urbanists and TOD advocates. They even exempted “affordable” housing from Seattle’s anemic tree ordinance.
I remember folks on this blog demanding Jefferson Golf Course and Sahalee be paved for housing. Urbanism means one thing: concrete and no yard setbacks where things grow.
If you force housing way out in the middle of nowhere, you get more driving, resulting in the need for wider roads and more parking, which ultimately more pavement.
Golf courses are a particularly bad use of land as they result in natural habitat loss as well as the grounds emitting more CO2 than they absorb.
“I remember folks on this blog demanding Jefferson Golf Course and Sahalee be paved for housing. Urbanism means one thing: concrete and no yard setbacks where things grow.”
Urbanism doesn’t mean that, and you know it. Don’t put words in people’s mouths as not all urbanists are cut from the same cloth.
Urbanists value green spaces, as every city people use as examples of good urbanism like Paris, Berlin, etc. They all have green spaces for the public to be able to use both big and small. As for Jefferson Park, people want it to be made a park or a mixed use space of green spaces and housing as they see a need for evolution to said space as golf courses are hardly green spaces people can realistically use on a day to day basis compared to like a public park.
I agree with asdf2 that it’s a terrible place for a park maintenance building. FW is on record wanting to add residential density in this area, and park maintenance is not the same value as a park even though they are both in Parks Dept ownership.
As to DT equating it with golf courses, that’s a whole other topic. For example, Seattle could still close 9 of the 27 holes and make it a general access public park and I think it would be of greater benefit.
FWIW I oppose developing any park land within a municipal zone. I think park is the highest and best public use. Each generation has a duty to preserve it for the next generation. Once gone it is gone forever and your city is a concrete jungle.
I can understand non-golfers thinking a public golf course should be an open course. They could also take up golf. It is a fun sport and great walk.
But I would never support taking public green spaces — especially in a city like Seattle with so little greenery in many neighborhoods — and pave it for housing when Seattle has so much unrealized housing zoning., whether a park or golf course or open space.
“I think park is the highest and best public use. Each generation has a duty to preserve it for the next generation.”
I wish you felt the same about walkability and frequent transit. Those are what allow people to meet most of their everyday needs without driving, and what sensible cities have. Driving should be an optional secondary mode, not coerced because there’s no other viable choice.
Re Seattle golf courses, what urbanists are asking for is a citywide debate on how many courses are needed in the 21st century, which ones are the highest priority to keep, and what the others should be converted into. Golfing has been declining since the 1960s, other sports have been rising, other park formats are more environmentally friendly, and we desperately need more housing near Link stations no matter what you think. I have suggested some possible models, without decisively endorsing any particular one, and invited golfers to join in the discussion.
I can see a case for converting Jackson Park but keeping Jefferson Park, for instance. We could cut Jackson Park’s course in half, turn the other half into better wildlife habitat and walking space, and add a row of apartments along the street. Or we could turn the whole thing into a better park, or into housing. I agree we need parks in general, and keeping half or most of it as a park is a reasonable alternative.
The problem with just saying “keep all parks” is the same as “keep all single-family areas”. Those areas were reserved arbitrarily, with no thought to their impact on the whole. or to walkability and non-car dependency. We need to rethink that, both for human health reasons and for increasing environmental concerns. A blind “keep all” policy is not a reasonable alternative in my mind.
Re Sahalee, nobody is proposing a 7-story city there. It would have been better to put that housing in established growth cities (Redmond and Issaquah) and leave Sammamish and Sahallee as they were in the 1980s. Instead we allowed the worst kind of sprawl there, and Sammamish to incorporate as a “city”. That makes it a poster child for what’s wrong with Pugetopolis. As to what to do with it now, we should have a long-term goal of getting 15-minute or 30-minute local bus service through it — as we should in all coverage cities. But first we need to address frequency in the larger and denser cities. We should not make major transit investments in in Sammamish: just connect it to Marymoor Station and Issaquah Highlands P&R all day and leave it at that.
Mike, I do value parks and natural spaces more than transit or “density”. And cars. Who doesn’t?
Having lived in a few world class urban cities (and it isn’t easy if you don’t have a lot of money or don’t love concrete so don’t sugarcoat it) my complaint with this region is it is probably the worst urbanism I have ever seen. There really isn’t any urbanism, unless you mean Bellevue Way.
A dead downtown core surrounded by mildly dense neighborhoods with very little retail density. It is as if the planners thought Seattle was a city of 5 million when zoning it, not 737,000 today, and so zoned for 5 million. Just awful urbanism. Water with no walls dispersed in a three county 6500 sq. mile area and 142 sq. mile city, where a piroshki shop on 3rd is considered “walkable urbanism”.
. And now the goal is to upzone the remote SFH neighborhoods so any future population growth migrates there. Total urban planning idiocy.
Re: public golf courses if “Seattle” wants to have a discussion about repurposing public golf courses I have no problem with that. I don’t play them now, but did as a kid. The issue will probably be all the urbanists demanding the golf courses be eliminated will find out the vast majority of the golfers on these courses have brown skin and less money than the white urbanists wanting to take golf away from the non-wealthy. Meanwhile rich (white) people play golf on private courses so don’t care what Seattle does with its public courses.
If you want “walkable urbanism” you need retail density. Otherwise walk in the forest. A city of 737,000 — that no longer has the out-of-city work commuter — can support only so much retail, so you must condense it by zoning, like U Village, or even the MI town center. It is the facade density that is key to walkability. Easier said than done.
The other mistake Seattle has made is similar with housing: no real housing density. The UGA’s made sense but the boundaries are WAY too large for a city of 737,000. There is no facade density. So what you have in Seattle is classic bad zoning euphemistically called “urban” villages: tall buildings surrounded by one or two story buildings, many with no retail. To compound that by rezoning parks and natural areas for more housing when Seattle’s current zoning if realized could easily accommodate 2 million additional residents (who are not coming because Seattle is getting such a bad national reputation and the weather sucks) is the antithesis of urbanism.
“Infill development” means the planners messed up the zoning to begin with. Paris never needed infill development. In Seattle’s case the original mistake was to zone it like a suburb and then try to rezone it like a city but very unevenly because Seattle was poor until around 20 years ago and so always chased the development dollars. But even then the density zones were too large to create real density for the population. Now we are swinging back to more suburban zoning by mildly upzoning the SFH zones and migrating any future population growth to these neighborhoods — which was the original zoning mistake — with no transit service while the downtown core slowly dies. Crazy.
If someone really wants and likes vibrant urbanism and retail density my advice to them is to move to another city. There are dozens of better cities just in the U.S. — albeit usually with greater population — with walkable urbanism. My daughter’s college town San Luis Obispo has a retail center that puts anything in Seattle to shame except maybe U Village. Why? Because it was zoned correctly. Miles and square miles of surrounding central CA hills with no development, a zoned university, carefully zoned residential, and strict boundaries on the retail zone to create great walkable retail density.
This is a nice area for suburban living and the natural resources. It is terrible for walkable urbanism, and Seattle’s ever shifting zoning that is more about progressive envy than any urban vision continues to make the retail and urbanism worse.
Seattle will never have walkable urbanism because it doesn’t have retail density., and the zoning keeps moving residents to the outer perimeters of the city like a suburb rather than condensing that housing and retail in a core. When I read on this blog what some consider urbanism compared to cities around the world and cities I have lived in I just laugh. I laugh when people tell me Bellevue Way is true urbanism too, except at least Bellevue accepts it is suburban urbanism.
I think it is too late. Seattle’s zoning was never designed to create urbanism, and that is only getting worse because the planners never understood 737,000 residents spread out over a 142 sq. mile city will never have any true density, so the new plan is to double down on that original zoning Sun by migrating any future population growth, and maybe retail, to the outer perimeters. . Seattle is the quintessential swimming pool with no walls.
I like Seattle’s residential neighborhoods but urbanists are trying to ruin them too, after ruining the downtown core. Tragic. Luckily I spent my youth in real urban cities.
So don’t accuse me of not favoring urbanism and walkability when the folks in charge of the zoning don’t have a clue what they are doing. I would love a vibrant downtown core to shop and dine in, and still work in, but people like you ruined that with terrible policies and planning.
You say transit shouldn’t be provide to neighborhoods that don’t have enough housing or commercial density to support the transit. That would be logical, except you then say neighborhoods shouldn’t be upzoned to allow redevelopment to densities that would be worth providing transit to because there’s no transit to support that development.
So which comes first!? The transit, or the density?
PS: SLO sucks. It’s completely unaffordable, its food scene is mediocre at best, and all the workers have to drive in from Santa Maria since they’ve been priced out of Atascadero, Los Osos, and every other city within 30 miles of SLO’s “urbanism”. [ah]
2023 federal, municipal and agency budget cuts are going to drive this reality home, for several years.
I never said don’t run transit to remote neighborhoods. I said that with a fixed budget any transit agency — especially Pierce and Community Transit — have to make choices.
Have you followed any of the recent transit restructures? There isn’t enough money — or drivers — to run transit to every neighborhood, especially spread out neighborhoods. Or do you suggest gutting Metro transit in S. Seattle to serve the Sammamish Plateau that probably pays more in transit taxes but won’t ride transit anyway post pandemic.
I don’t know how familiar you are with HB 1110 or 1133 but the upzones are mild because the regulatory limits for the zone don’t change, and neither do minimum lot sizes. Who are some of the main opponents? Small cities, because they object to reducing parking minimums because their neighborhoods HAVE NO FRICKIN TRANSIT. Can you not understand that? My city has no intra-city transit. Doubling the population in these zones will not create more transit revenue or buses or drivers, change the topography, coverage or frequency. In fact it will reduce coverage and frequency in equity zones that really need transit but can’t afford it on their own because they are poor.
So what will happen. The reduction of parking minimums in 1110 will be removed and all these new residents to the remote SFH zones will need cars which will increase carbon emissions and eliminate the boundaries necessary to create retail density and urbanism. Seattle doesn’t have the population and density today to create any decent walkable urbanism (and please don’t claim Ballard is walkable urbanism because that will only mean you have never been out of Seattle). Will migrating the likely meager future population growth to the SFH zones help that? Of course not.
You just don’t understand zoning and what it can and can’t do because you think it is a way to fight privilege even though you choose to live in Ballard and not God forbid S. Seattle.
I think the next five years with budget cuts at the federal and local level will help some realize how hard it is to provide reasonable transit coverage and frequency in a huge area to poor people. Metro is rich compared to Pierce and Cimmunity Ttansit, it have you not studied their coverage and frequency in counties that average 2200 sq. mikes.
There will be cuts in the future, while you are advocating for reallocating those scarce transit dollars to wealthy remote neighborhoods who still won’t ride it. At least the communities of color get it, and want more transit spending (equity) in their neighborhood and less in your and my privileged communities.
They get it because they live it. You just read about it because you are affluent. For you transit means billion dollar tunnels and stations in Ballard so you don’t have to see or hear light rail and you think it is other people’s money.
Starting in 2023 someone else is not paying. The DEIS for WSBLE will put the bill on the stakeholders. I hope the stakeholders pony up. My subarea isn’t. That I know, although I would still tell Metro if budgets are tight DON’T RUN TRANSIT TO WEALTHY SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOODS (or Ballard). Use it on poor communities.
Apparently, Metro already knows this because at least on the Eastside we have no neighborhood transit. If you think a duplex or two will change this financial reality you probably think N. King has the funding for WSBLE.
If only money was limitless.
it’s not ad hominem to call out cognitive dissonance for what it is.
Notice that Daniel’s reply does not respond to any of my points whatsoever, and largely relies on a slightly less obvious ad hominem suggesting that my neighborhood of residence invalidates my opinions.
It’s not ad hominem to say that prolific, dissonant, and unconstructive commentary is a cancer on this comment section and should not be allowed.
Nathan, it is simple: where will the money come from to run meaningful transit to these upzoned SFH zones? That is my question you don’t answer. You don’t upzone remote areas without being able to answer that question.
That is what the smaller cities are asking. We don’t have any neighborhood transit now because Metro cannot afford it. I have a Metro bus stop sign in front of my house that has been covered since 2009, and this in north MI. Now we are being told that if our neighborhoods are upzoned and parking requirements reduced folks won’t park on the streets, streets that have no sidewalks so kids walking to school are forced into the middle of the street, because these new residents will take transit that today does not exist and Metro admits it can’t afford.
Remember, MI bought this argument in our town center. Folks did not give up their cars and instead park for free on the town center streets that displace retail parking, not unlike Seattle.
Maybe a good solution is for the legislature to target a single SFH zone for upzoning — say a part of Sammamish — and direct Metro to begin frequent coverage to the entire zone so any citizen can walk to transit. Isn’t that the “induced demand” I read so much about?
I think if Eastside citizens see this kind of transit coverage and frequency they might be more trusting. Because today we have no transit we don’t have to drive to.
The only issue then is where to take that transit service from because Metro’s budget is a zero sum game. Any ideas?
The other issue I try to point out over and over is if you are an urbanist in a city of 737,000 (which is tiny) that is 142 sq. miles (which is really big) and want any kind of meaningful urbanism why are you dispersing population to the 6500 sq. mikes (which is HUGE) surrounding Seattle. Or is your goal to “urbanize” Sammamish.
To be honest I think upzoning SFH zones is about envy, and political payback for political contributions, but if someone is a true urbanist and understands the region’s original sin was allowing zoning and development, housing and retail throughout 6500 sq. miles with a relatively very small population why double down on that?
Begin with the transit coverage, and then upzone. Since 1991 the GMA and PSRC have recommended against upzoning remote zones and targeting new housing in town centers with walkable retail and EXISTING transit, but maybe they are wrong and you are correct.
Daniel, you should check the intellectual honesty of your commentary, because it makes it very difficult to respond seriously to you.
One example (of many) of your dishonesty is how you routinely quote statistics out of context to back up your points.
You point out that 737,000 people live in 142 square miles, which you say is not enough people for a too-large area. You then imply that somehow, additional growth is happening throughout the 6,500 square miles of Snohomish, Pierce, and King Counties, implying that the UGAs in these counties encompass the entire area.
You clearly don’t know that just King County’s UGA is about 650 square miles and contains 2.2 million people, a third of which live in Seattle’s 84 square miles of land (only 73 square miles are actually legal to live on, though).
All of the PSRC’s growth targets include accommodating ~90% of the region’s growth into the Metropolitan Areas of Seattle and Bellevue – how is that not “targeting new housing in town centers”?
Anyways, I’m glad you’ve finally decided a single coherent stance: you think transit coverage should precede upzones.
I’ll be holding you to it when you complain that transit is being run to low-density areas.
Nathan, beginning every one of your posts with an ad hominem attack hurts the credibility of your argument. Focus on the point you are trying to make.
I agree with you that transit coverage and frequency should precede an upzone, or at least proof the funding is there to provide that transit system. Upzones without the certainty of Link does not make sense.
Where we disagree is I don’t see the additional funding in Metro, Pierce and Community transit budgets to provide that transit service to remote neighborhoods that historically have been averse to transit ridership without taking that transit from more equitable areas. You want to reallocate transit from S. Seattle to Mercer Island. As an Islander I think that is a bad idea and inequitable, and Sam has posted some good information about considering equity in allocating limited transit funding.
I did not state population growth would occur throughout the 6500 sq. miles in the three counties. . I said the Dept. of Commerce’s future population estimates are inflated, the PSRC in its 2050 Vision Statement believes around half of any population growth will migrate to the less urban parts of the counties, but that zoning should try to incentivize TOD in town centers where there is walkable retail and transit.
As I replied to Mike the legislature is reconsidering that vision. If you want to move folks to TOD near walkable transit and retail you don’t upzone remote SFH zones because that is where folks will move, and drive because there won’t be transit (often referred to as TOD).
My rough guess is there is existing zoning for around 5 million additional residents in those 6500 sq miles. A tiny fraction of that number will move to this region, far less than the 1 million the DOC estimated pre-pandemic. The GMPC has already determined cities have already zoned for the DOC’s admittedly inflated population estimates through 2044, mostly in multi-family developments in town centers near walkable retail and transit. But builders rarely build based on population estimates which is construction lags population growth, and then tends to overshoot it.
It appears to me the legislature is abandoning the TOD model the GMA and PSRC envisioned. Since all 6500 sq miles have already been zoned it was not going to be easy to mandate TOD in urban type settings. I think the proposals to upzone remote SFH zones is as you note an abandonment of the TOD Vision, which was struggling post pandemic.
You don’t need to take these things so personally. What will happen will happen. Transit and zoning are little eddies in a river of demographics and pandemics. Life goes on. If you like transit ride transit. If not drive. Based on Seattle today and the decline of office occupancy and investment I doubt this region will ever have true urbanism, just suburban like Ballard and Mercer Island with little pockets of retail density mostly in malls with free parking.
Sorta baffled they want to give up good green spaces for more development when if you look at the good Vancouver developments they all have nice green spaces littered throughout the area and between condo towers.
There is a very popular and well-used park just west of Federal Way TC. The park in the picture is somewhere else. The park west of FWTC is fairly new, and the City spent a lot on community outreach to decide what all to put there, and then on installing all the neat stuff the community wanted. Yeah, they should probably have built it further from the station and built mutli-story affordable housing in between.
But if they are going to tear something down, I suggest the Commons. Shopping there has really dropped off, partially from the move to ordering online, and partially from people avoiding the crowds it used to have. (Some will try to argue the move to online shopping was a phenomenon totally independent of you-know-what, but I don’t buy that.)
Since parks are best next to density, I would suggest the whole Commons rectangle be converted to dense housing mixed with family-oriented park space. There are lots of families who needed that housing to move into, like, yesterday.
They can keep some retail there on the first floor, along with a community center, senior center, etc.
I recently saw that the overhead wire on Lynwood Link looks like it is installed over Northgate Way. How does it look to the north? Previous light rail projects I have watched, the sight of electrical overhead wire was a sign of significant completion. But today that may not be the case. I am curious.
I believe overhead wire has made it to 145th St, and they’re starting to move south from Mountlake Terrace as well. I’ve had a few opportunities over the last few months to drive up to sites around Lynnwood and it’s been fun seeing the progress.
It is also interesting to see the development around some future stations. The complex I think they call Terrace Station was not even more than a field off of I-5 near Montlake 9 Theater as recently as 4 years ago. Now it is a micro city or something near the new light rail station. For those without cars, that would be pretty convenient. And I am sure they planned it that way as TOD. So Lynwood Link opening is probably important to them.
Ya, they have been working on redeveloping that area for awhile now. Construction on some of those buildings actually started before LR construction.
The interesting thing about the future Montlake Terrace Station is that there will be two breweries within a half a mile walking distance of the station – Diamond Knot and Hemlock State. And there is a pretty darn good butcher shop within half a mile too – Double D Meats. This makes the future Montlake Terrace Station sort of unique among LR stations.
I was under the impression that ST proposal for New Westlake was way worse than it actually is.
Prior to today, I thought that the New Station wasn’t going to be integrated into the old Station AT ALL.
But taking a 2nd look at the plans, and a whole bunch of things that NO ONE HAS BEEN TALKING ABOUT, popped out, like the big pedestrian passage that ST is sticking under Old Westlake, or that the existing Westlake station and Mezzanine are going to get a whole bunch of new connections to the surface.
The Transfer passages are less direct than they should be because ST is trying to balance speed and throughput.
Many cities will have to deal with this issue in 2023 as Covid stimulus runs out, which I think is the driving force for so many Seattle council members choosing to not run for re-election. I don’t think Seattle progressives are emotionally ready for budget cuts.
Interesting interview with Nancy Pelosi with Maureen Dowd. Pelosi stated D’s would have held the House if D’s in NY had taken crime seriously.
“which I think is the driving force for so many Seattle council members choosing to not run for re-election.”
People retire or want to move onto different things. Being a councilmember is also a difficult job to deal with in a big city. Everyone’s got an opinion about how everything the city is doing is right or wrong. And people just airing personal grievances to them.
Along with the people not seeking reelection are mostly all the longest serving members, Sawant (2013), Juarez (2015), Herbold (2015), and Hederson (2019). I don’t think it’s anything related to budget and more of just a lot of people who feel they’re ready to move on. They did their service to the city representing it, and it’s time for a new chapter in their life.
They were councilmembers during a pandemic. That’s probably busy and stressful, and you watch your vision for the city go down the drain.
Pedersen is a first-termer. He is also the most conservative councilmember on transportation mode and police issues. There is no fleeing going on here correlating to any particular ideology.
But I don’t know very many people willing to put themselves through the meat-grinder of running for office, with the politics of personal destruction that accompanies the voting system we are stuck with for the time being (and RCV will definitely not be used for this year’s council election).
I’ve certainly had huge disagreements with the policy decisions of all four retiring councilmembers, but I thank them for their service.
Westlake had a vision for a monorail https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/single-track-minds-envisioned-a-seattle-monorail-a-century-ago/ May be there is space for elevated (mono)rail or maglev after all.
Bellevue considers consolidating elementary schools ($) due to declining enrollment. The bulge of students is aging.
“in the Bellevue area, most young families with children can’t afford homes with a median price of $1 million. While more additional housing units are being developed, far fewer occupants have children than the district initially projected”
It also says 17% of elementary students citywide are low-income. This matches what I heard that 20% of Bellevue’s population is low income. I wonder if Redmond, Kirkland, and Bothell are similar.
You can watch and update in this video here and there is another link to a more recent meeting, too, I believe. Some sections of each are pretty informative.
Regarding the other school districts – one thing that is mentioned in one of the videos is that other neighboring school districts are facing similar enrollment drops. I do not remember mentions of income level, though (but very possible I missed it – I did not watch the whole thing, mostly just skimmed).
To highlight the incredible population burst in Bellevue during the 1950’s, here are the schools that opened just between 1952 and 1959.
1952 – Clyde Hill Elementary
1953 – Enatai Elementary
1956 – Eastgate Elementary. Ashwood Elementary
1957 – Phantom Lake Elementary. Highland Elementary. Highland Junior High. Woodridge Elementary.
1958 – Lake Hills Elementary. Sunset Elementary
1959 – Sammamish High School
And that amazing school-opening pace continued right through the 1960’s.
The question should now be, what’s the best use for former school property? Obviously, it depends where the school is located. Bellevue Jr. High, and other buildings, eventually became Downtown Bellevue Park. On the other hand, over in Seattle, when Queen Anne High School closed due to low enrollment in 1981, it was repurposed into apartments, and eventually condos. Enatai Elementary in Bellevue would be an awful place for low income housing. No stores, almost no transit, low walk score. Perhaps it’s better turned into a park, or sold to a high end housing developer. The homes around there go for $5M. (Big payday for the school district, and property taxes for the county. The county needs money, right?). I can’t believe they are considering closing Eastgate. They just had a massive remodel some years back. I forget what other schools they are considering closing, but, I say, either turn them into parks, or try to make as much money as you can from them.
Sam, the MI school district has made the catastrophic mistake of selling off school property in the past thinking school enrollment would not return.
Mercerdale Park, The Lakes, the Mercerview property where the community center is now located all sold for what is now peanuts.
There are baby booms and baby busts. MI had to pass a $100 million levy to undo the mistakes the school district made.
The current 10% decline in enrollment is important for two reasons:
1. Some was Covid related and parents like the private school despite the cost. And many parents are upset with what they perceive as a woke indoctrination of their (often religious) kids. Many progressives don’t understand how strongly many parents believe in God and their religion (and to be honest I am not very religious although my Catholic parents were).
2. When the legislature passed legislation after McCleary banning local levies for general education it should have allowed districts to still pass those levies because those are the wealthy districts that can send kids to private schools (22% of Seattle students go to private K-12, second highest in the U.S.). Instead the legislature did a sleight of hand allowing school districts to float special levies (maintenance, operations, transportation) based on 2019 student levels that inflated those levies by 15% (and still passed on MI by a huge margin despite anger over Covid closures and allowed districts to “borrow” against those levies for general education until the students returned. Except they didn’t return. Seattle and Eastside.
The reality is a lot of wealthy school districts were very inefficient and somewhat aloof because the citizens would always pass local levies for general education. But it is irresponsible to expect these districts can make 10% of cuts in a very short time.
Most on this blog appear to me to not have kids. In my world transit does not exist. Not good, not bad, just totally irrelevant . . I could go to cocktail parties on the Eastside for ten years (really 30) and no one would even mention “transit”.
But education is the third rail of all Eastside politics and life. That is all Eastside politicians talk about (my wife couldn’t tell you what a limited East Link segment is if her life depended on it— or just East Link) but every Eastside mom lives and breaths schools, which is why every Eastside politician is female.
Delaying East Link to 2025 or never got a big yawn on Eastside Nextdoors. Closing three Bellevue elementary schools went nuclear.
Our current legislature is dominated by Seattle progressives who don’t understand or really prioritize K-12 education. Parents vote with their feet. It is going to devastate the most important part of this state: K-12 education is why our state constitution mandates 50% of tax revenue go toward K-12.
The Queen Anne example is a very good one. The city should take over the property, as these sorts of things have a habit of going back and forth. The Seattle School District wishes it had Queen Anne High School. In contrast, I think the city or the district always kept the Lincoln property. It became part of the boys and girls club and eventually reopened as temporary home for various schools while their schools were renovated (Ballard, Roosevelt and Garfield High, as well as a couple elementary schools). Now it is back, as Lincoln High. There is nothing wrong with closing a school, just don’t get rid of the property — you might need it later.
Yakima offers to host a new airport ($) for SeaTac and Paine Field expansion. It would be on the site of the existing Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field.
No discussion of how passengers from Pugetopolis would get there. When Moses Lake was being considered in the 90s, it was with a bullet train to Seattle.
I’ve often ponder if the best way to get high speed rail through the Cascades is to put something like an airport in Kittitas or Yakima Counties and have it owned by the Port of Seattle, which could say that the line is a high speed remote terminal shuttle.
The other strategy is to show that another airport wouldn’t be needed if we had high speed rail. That was one of California’s major reasons for funding high speed rail. However, in California’s situation, something like 30-40 % of all air boardings are between the Bay Area and Southern California so it was much easier to say it’s either HSR or two new airports.
Projecting where the technology is going over the next 50 years, I think it’s highly likely that the San Francisco to Los Angeles market finds itself served by electric airplanes long before high speed rail. Unlike the cross-country flights, these are short enough distances that electrification wouldn’t require *that* big of a technological leap; solid state batteries, alone, could easily end up doing the trick.
Of course, there’s still the airport capacity issue, but one flights become electrified, it becomes politically feasible to start adding passenger service at the numerous existing general aviation airports in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, where neighbors would currently object to passenger service due to noise and pollution associated with fuel-burning flights.
Of course, buses between San Francisco and Los Angeles down the freeways will also be a thing (and the buses too will eventually get electrified). But, for people that want to make the trip in one hour rather than 6, the future is going to be traveling to a small airport with minimal security delays and hopping on an electric plane, not a high speed rail line that California does not seem capable of ever finishing.
I’m waiting for the fusion powered flying cars myself.
Long Live Gadgetbahn
I don’t know what the landing requirements of commercial electronic aircraft would be, but I seriously doubt that the smaller local airports in the Bay Area could be repurposed without major property acquisitions and many new runways and terminals. The environmental clearance and early design would take several years. There are not funds to expand small airports either.
Meanwhile, the CAHSR declared that San Francisco to Bakersfield via Gilroy will be done by 2031. CalTrain electrification is done in 2024. 2031 may be a year or two early but it’s still only a decade off. Bakersfield is 110 miles from Downtown LA.
The Bakersfield to LA segments are in the middle of detailed studies. The studies appear to be on track in the next year. My guess is that this segment will open 2035-37. Funding strategies are already in place.
So it’s not 50 years, asdf2. Instead it appears to be 15, or 20 in a worst case.
You could eliminate 100% of the passenger traffic between Seattle & Portland and the business case for a new airport is unchanged.
The WSDOT models state that the region needs 3 additional runways. IIRC Portland-Seattle is ~15% of SeaTac’s annual passenger volume, or equivalent to less than half a runway of capacity. We could build the most perfect Cascades HSR, open a 2 runway airport at Paine, and we’d probably still need 1 greenfield runway in 2050 to meet unconstrained demand.
The case for a new airport is similar to the case for a new convention center, or new lanes on the freeway, or the R. H. Thomson Expressway. We don’t need it. The idea that airport travel — especially air freight — will grow at a very fast pace is unrealistic.
CalTrain electrification is good, but that only impacts San Francisco->San Jose. HSR running from Gilroy to Bakersfield by 2031 would be good, but given the huge delays this project has undergone today, I don’t believe that will actually happen in 2031. Maybe 2041, if all goes well. Even then, Bakersfield is still not Los Angeles. You’d just need a 1-2 hour bus ride to get from Bakersfield to the actual city. By the time CAHSR is actually running all the way to Los Angeles, 50 years from today, after accounting for all of the inevitable construction delays, does indeed seem quite likely. And that’s assuming it actually gets built at all vs. funding being cut, an assumption which is far from assured.
Then, there’s the problem that the Los Angeles metro area is huge and sprawling, and to serve it right, you really need several stations, rather than just one. But, of course, in the name of cost cutting and minimizing construction impacts, the inevitable result is going to be just one station. By contrast, the Los Angeles metro area already has lots of airports and most people probably live closer to some airport than to wherever the single LA station will end up being. After all, the case for taking the train to San Francisco is drastically weakened if the airport is a 20 minute drive away, while the train station is an hour’s drive away (or potentially 2 hours if traffic is bad).
Obviously, adding passenger service to the smaller Bay Area airports that don’t have it would cost real money. But, nowhere near the $200 billion or so that a fully completed San Francisco to Los Angeles train line is likely to cost. And, if the these airports focus on local destinations, they can run with smaller aircraft (which is more economically feasible when powered by electricity due to lower operating costs), you don’t need runways the size of SFO. The long-haul flights with big planes can just keep using the airports they are already using.
And, to answer RossB’s comment. No, Puget Sound does not need yet another airport.
So much of flight traffic these days is people deciding to go check out some new place because the flights are cheap, trips which are far from essential and not worth the money or environmental impact to expand capacity indefinitely. Most business meetings can be done virtually over Zoom. Not building a new airport may eventually mean that flying out of SeaTac gets more expensive during peak travel times as you have to “outbid” other passengers for limited slots on limited flights. But, it’s far from the end of the world, and those that really need to fly would always be able to do so. The idea that businesses will move out of Seattle because a flight out of SeaTac costs $100-200 more is rediculous.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the Port of Seattle shouldn’t look for cheap ways to increase capacity and reduce misery at the airport they already have. They should. And, increasing capacity at the TSA lines would be a good place to start. But, completely destroying rural land for another SeaTac-sized airport should be a nonstarter.
Don’t forget the lion’s share of the tax revenue from those airline passengers goes to Seattle. Tourism, cruise ships, hotels, rental cars, restaurant and retail sales tax, and so on. And it comes with zero social costs.
Business travel has declined due to Zoom for the same reason workers don’t commute to offices: most workers don’t like business travel. The loss of this tax revenue is going to hurt city budgets like Seattle and require painful cuts just like the loss of the work commuter is causing large budget deficits. Today cities are competing for the tourist traveler.
Another big issue is the closing of airports in medium and small cities which really hurts those cities.
Who determines whether a flight, car trip or transit trip is “essential”? That is a slippery slope. My in-laws flew to Africa to install a water purifier as part of their Rotary group. I am sure they could have just donated the money but part of their experience was to see rural Africa. Travel is one of the great educator,s, even if you just visit a different part of the U.S. to compare to this region and better understand our shared history. Most of the world is covered by water so flying is about the only efficient option.
One of the best things to happen was to deregulate airlines which brought competition which made flights affordable for the middle class so they could see the world too before they die. Travel, even if for pleasure, is essential unless you are a monk. Personally I look back at traveling to different parts of the world as some of most fulfilling moments on this earth, even though I didn’t have much money.
The problem with flying isn’t so much the private airlines. It is the government structures like TSA and the air traffic control systems, although today there are ways like Clear and TSA preferred to avoid long security screening waits.
I am not saying an entirely new airport is necessary. I don’t know, but generally distrust agency future estimates (like ST). SeaTac is maxed out and the surrounding communities don’t want more flights (although cities like SeaTac want more airport parkers and rental cars).
The problem with HSR to a city like LA which requires a rental car or Seattle is suddenly the station needs all the amenities an airport has which requires a huge amount of space which does not exist in the city. When SeaTac was built that was nowhere. So ironically the HSR station needs to terminate at the airport to avoid duplicating those amenities, or the HSR terminal station for something like Cascadia HSR is in remote areas along the cascade mountains which makes access too expensive and difficult and makes HSR uncompetitive.
I agree with asdf2 HSR from SF to LA is many decades away, and HSR to Bakersfield won’t be competitive, and in fact is pointless without LA. If HSR can compete and justify the huge cost and O&M (because unlike airlines there is no competition which is an issue that plagues all public transit) it is SF to LA. If it can’t succeed there — and right now it doesn’t look like it can and with the new Congress I see this project the first to get federal funding cut — it can’t succeed anywhere except maybe a limited Eastside route, but those are short enough HSR is not necessary and trains need to make many stops.
People are not going to stop flying for pleasure. Every indicator suggests the volume will only increase, along with freight. Cities with massive airport(s) will benefit. Those with inadequate airports will decline. Other than temperate summer weather and cruise ships outside hurricane zones Seattle has little to offer today for a tourist who can go anywhere (and many cruise ship passengers are now being directed to Bellevue.
Beginning in 2023 I think a lot of folks are going to understand better how important tax revenue is as painful cuts to their favorite programs are required as Covid stimulus is exhausted and all federal funding scaled back by around 1/2 in the discretionary fund.
HSR to Portland and Bellingham/Vancouver would take some of the pressure off the need for a new airport. But ultimately, if SEA becomes constrained, the easiest approach is just to increase the size of the airplanes flying in and out of the airport.
Increasing airplane size shifts the focus from “more runways” or “more airports” to “more passenger handling capability”. Essentially it is easier to improve a passenger terminal than it is to add a runway. Larger airplanes deliver more passengers to the terminal given the same number of runways and arrival/departure slots, so the terminal becomes the constraint.
But this new airport push is more about economic development than actual passenger capability. It’s why the enabling legislation doesn’t allow for considering any locations in King County. The State doesn’t want to make KC richer by adding anew airport in KC. They want it elsewhere so the economic benefit doesn’t go to KC.
Asdf2, the Bakersfield to LA segment is really three segments, with only Palmdale to Burbank not being finished with environmental clearance (and that is projected later this year).
The Bakersfield to Palmdale segment is relatively easy to construct, and opening that puts HSR just 60 miles from Downtown LA and 40 miles from Sylmar (The San Fernando Valley has 1.8m in population). The Burbank to LA segment is pretty easy too, and it’s only 14 miles. Those will not take 50 years. They won’t even take 12 once construction starts.
The deep tunnel between Palmdale and Burbank appears to be big hurdle and by this time next year CAHSR will have a clearer handle on its cost and effort.
The Guardian is very progressive.
Reading the Guardian article I am struck how similar the CA HSR levy and project are to Link.
Promises are made in the levies the proponents know can’t be kept, and once passed and the agency formed it is impossible to kill no matter how unwise the investment.
With their last breath the agencies will repeat the lies while conveniently forgetting the original promises in the levy because they always knew those promises could not be kept. They just wanted the money, which at least the CA legislature didn’t let them bond, power and job security with no consequences for total failure.
Yea there are similarities, DT. The major difference that I see is that ST3 Link doesn’t add travel time value for riders in many cases, especially if a bus transfer is needed. At least CAHSR should reduce travel times because speed is a basic tenet of the project.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the “gaps” between Gilroy and Merced along with Palmdale to LA should have been built first because just closing them would have utility for passenger service and even freight service no matter what happens with HSR. Even the Central Valley IOS should be operated as continual services on to Oakland and Sacramento if at all possible — either with a train cross platform transfer or a way to change the power source — but that isn’t presented yet.
Finally, I’ll note that Fresno, Bakersfield and Visalia (in between) MSAs have a comparable population similar to Portland MSA (2.5m people). Linking that with either the Bay Area or SoCal has utility.
“The idea that airport travel will grow at a very fast pace is unrealistic.”
Yes, I don’t see how when population growth is slowing they think air travel will increase precipitously. I can understand growth occurring slowly and eventually needing a minor increase in capacity, but not several more runways on top of the expansions we’ve done in the past two decades.
An airport in Yakima should arguably be for Eastern Washington’s demand, if such demand exists. That has little to do with SeaTac. And they illustrate it with one daily flight coming to SeaTac, and saying there used to be four, and implying more flights would come to SeaTac after the expansion. That wouldn’t alleviate SeaTac’s alleged capacity crunch; it would exacerbate it. The solution would seem to be to send those flights to Spokane instead, and increase Spokane’s flights to a wider variety of destinations so they could transfer there. But again, that has little to do with SeaTac’s or Pugetopolis’ capacity crunch; it would be better described as statewide or Eastern Washington capacity expansion. So how otherwise would an airport in Yakima address the supposed need for more capacity for Western Washington?
“especially air freight”
I don’t understand how this fits in. When I think of capacity, I think of airline passengers. If some of the issue is freight. Are there really a lot of freight flights, and a massive need for more? Why would freight traffic be going up so much? One might think it’s because of the rise of online ordering. But at the freight level, products have to move into/out of the region or across the country regardless of whether you order it on Amazon or pick it up in a store. So is it really a rise in product buying? There can’t be such a rapid increase. People are up to their ears in products already.
And have they considered increasing rail freight capacity instead of air freight capacity? Some things have to go express at premium prices on airplanes, but most things don’t. Especially if we, gasp, increased the incremental speed and reliability and capacity of our railroad tracks. Not high-speed rail, but just getting on with Washington’s long-term rail plan that it adopted over twenty years ago but still hasn’t completed.
As long as CAHSR can connect to conventional tracks sixty miles outside LA and San Francisco and continue at conventional speed for the first/last miles until those segments can be upgraded, I don’t see a problem with that.
The problem would be if people have to drive to Bakersfield or Fresno because there’s no other reasonable way to get there.
Here is a link to a graphic showing the increase in freight traffic at SeaTac between 2020 and 2021. Admittedly, this was at the height of the pandemic; it will be interesting to see what the next year or two show.
In terms of “why” there are increases, other than the pandemic, I can think of a couple of reasons…
1. There are a lot of things which are genuinely more convenient to buy online. Specialty products come to mind; I like to get certain tea and hot chocolate for the family on a regular basis, and these are not found in regular stores. The products are similar in cost, but sold directly by small producers in other states. Electronics are also like this – B&H Photo Video in New York has a much better selection of equipment than you can obtain at Best Buy or even at camera stores in Seattle, like Glazers Camera.
2. Amazon and other retailers are pushing for much more 2-day shipping. Making 2-day shipping standard means that much more of the cargo shipped from the East Coast has to be sent by plane instead of truck. That means that it is easier to get last-minute gifts for people, etc.
I’m sure that there are other reasons but those are the ones I have explicitly experienced myself.
“Reading the Guardian article I am struck how similar the CA HSR levy and project are to Link.
Promises are made in the levies the proponents know can’t be kept, and once passed and the agency formed it is impossible to kill no matter how unwise the investment.”
Nah, it’s not even compatible. The CAHSR project has had issues,but they’ve been mostly addressed. For all the hemming and hawwing about the train to nowhere, the central valley section is going to be the backbone of the system and in turn needed to be built right in the first place. There’s also value in building political goodwill out in the valley as there may be hesitancy out there towards the project. Whereas all the big cities were going to be onboard the project regardless.
I’d also add that at least CAHSR is trying to be more than just mediocre like Brightline is with their projects. And Brightline doesn’t receive enough backlash for its lackluster project even thought it’s a lot more problematic than CAHSR.
It’s easy to dunk on CAHSR because everyone will immediately jump on any public transit government project and become armchair accounts the moment it goes overbudget and yet none of the same treatment for private projects or highway infrastructure. Which has more bloat and wasted money than CAHSR will ever have.
You want good, fast, and chave rail, well you can only pick two in the grand scheme of things. CAHSR picked Good and Fast and were right to do so.
Mike, lots of air cargo, in particularly international, travels on passenger flights in the belly of the plane, alongside the passenger’s luggage. For example, one of the main reasons there was supply chain chaos when China first locked down was the abrupt cancellation of all passenger flights in/out of China, which removed a huge amount of air cargo capacity. Another example is Alaska Air, which moves a ton of cargo in/out and around Alaska but I don’t believe operates any cargo-only operations (to some more remote towns, a plane may be 80% cargo and 20% passengers). This is why airports like SFO and SeaTac have large air cargo metrics despite minimal cargo-only flights.
As for the connection between central and western Washington, the peak summer cargo needs are driven by the agricultural exports coming out of central Washington, in particular fruit exports. This is why Moses Lake and now Yakima have stepped forward as options; they would support the regional agricultural economy and probably aspire to become logistics & food processing hubs anchored by the airport activity. However, Moses Lake never got traction because the passenger demand was negligible and experts didn’t think there would be a market for cargo-only activity … because again, most of these agricultural exports travel on planes that are also carrying passengers.
Mike, Yakima Air Terminal is 150 miles to SeaTac and 200 miles to Spokane, so I suggest not lumping together everything east of Snoqualmie pass as “Eastern Washington” from a logistics standpoint. The US97/I82 corridor is tied economically much closer to Puget Sound than Spokane, in particular when it comes to logistics and access to markets outside of the state. Spokane is the economic hub for activity east of SR21 (a handy dividing line), not everything east of the Cascades.
Like Moses Lake, it’s primarily about regional cargo capacity, particularly during the harvest.
New Federal Way Link Extension Flyover Video. Who is this section of rail meant for?
For downtown Federal Way and the cities of Federal Way and Auburn around it. That’s always what Federal Way Link was for. What matters is the stations, not the track path between the stations. So 90% of the video is the least important part.
The stations would have been better on 99, where more walk-up housing and retail and RapidRide A could have served them. That didn’t happen because of a disagreement between Kent, Des Moines, and Federal Way. Kent wanted the alignment on 99 so it could build walk-up housing in the station areas. Des Moines wanted it on I-5 to preserve its auto-oriented strip malls (it actually said that). Federal Way wanted Link on I-5 both to minimize travel time and increase the certainty it would be completed on time. Since Federal Way was the main purpose of the line and must-serve, ST deferred to it and Des Moines. The studies showed travel time and cost would be the same on I-5 vs 99. But that wasn’t enough to sway the city’s assumption that freeway alignments are always faster and lower-risk.
ST light rail runs along freeways in enough places, one has to assume it’s something they want, as well. It can’t all be blamed on cities … Redmond forced us to run next to 520. Bellevue forced us to run next to 405. Federal Way forced us to run next to I-5. Tukwila forced us to run next to 518.. Kent forced us to run next to I-5. Seattle, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and Lynnwood forced us to run next to I-5. I could see why they would want to. Running next to a freeway makes their job of building Link a whole lot easier.
That’s the well-known American sickness that has gone on for seventy years. People have a blind spot about transit, so they can’t fathom how a good rail-centric network that works so well in the rest of the world could work well here, so they see Link as a negative impact that must be mitigated. So Bellevue pushes its downtown station away from the pedestrian center and bus bays. The CID wants to avoid construction disruption and doesn’t realize the benefit of having a station steps away from the destinations, that would benefit everyone and bring more business. Paris doesn’t push trains and stations away; they say “We want more of them and we want stations close by.” Because they actually have such a system so they experience its benefit, and wouldn’t want to do without it. But the CID and Bellevue and Des Moines and Shoreline and Snohomish County push it away.
I’m not sure Seattle has any culpability in Lynnwood Link’s alignment, or that Shoreline has that much. Didn’t the Seattle politicians favor Aurora, at least near the end? I don’t recall Shoreline saying, “Keep your dirty trains away from my arterial.” The main reason I-5 was chosen was travel time and cost. ST’s studies said an Aurora alignment would take 4 minutes longer, and that would lose more riders in Lynnwood than it would gain in Shoreline and North Seattle. And I-5 would have lower construction costs. The latter turned out not to be true because the freeway is so old and fragile that ST had to take special care not to touch it so it wouldn’t be responsible for rebuilding it if something broke. Those are the reasons I heard for choosing Aurora. That and the fact that it was the representative alignment, and to deviate from that ST would have to write a statement saying why, and it wasn’t willing to.
“ST’s studies said an Aurora alignment would take 4 minutes longer, and that would lose more riders in Lynnwood than it would gain in Shoreline and North Seattle.”
Why would we want an alignment that carries fewer riders? Isn’t the whole point to drive ridership? If Aurora carried fewer riders, it would have been a bad choice. Sure, arguments could be made that eventual zoning changes and associated construction could drive ridership, too – but at some point you have to make decisions based on the world you have, not the one you want, and the one we have seems to have suggested that I-5 was the better alignment. It is what it is.
“Why would we want an alignment that carries fewer riders?”
Because I don’t believe that statistic. Aurora has a lot more potential for massive walkable housing and business growth than the governments are giving it credit for. I believe the urban villages will eventually generate more ridership than the agencies predict. Capitol Hill station has massive demand; it shot up to to the second highest-volume station. Roosevelt and U-District are also robust. Something similar could have happened on Aurora. And it would partly address the need for an E-limited line, with something that was going to be built anyway.
Also, the discussion was in the context of Snohomish County commuters, many of whom drive to P&Rs and travel only peak hours. To me those are less important to serve than walk-up mixed-use neighborhoods, even if their numeric ridership may be slightly higher. The important thing is to give a higher percentage of the population the opportunity to live and shop and work within walking distance of Link stations. That’s what’s missing in most American cities, including Pugetopolis. And more of them need to be outside major downtowns, because major downtowns are the most expensive areas to live in.
I may not have given downtown Lynnwood’s growth enough credit, because then it was even more unrealized hot air, with Lynnwood talking big but not doing anything. It’s still mostly hot air, but maybe (maybe) we can trust Lynnwood more to follow through. Still, I don’t think people should be forced to live in downtown Lynnwood three miles further out if they want a frequent walkable train because three Aurora stations weren’t built.
“ Aurora has a lot more potential for massive walkable housing and business growth….”
Ah, because the government doesn’t dispense money based on future “potential”. The government scores the proposals based on current reality and not on future potential or “promises” by various entities to invest in things.
As much as people on this blog seem to distrust ST, the reason for this should be obvious. Because any local entity could then simply game the grant process by promising big investments in sidewalks, feeder buses, BRT, TOD, zoning changes, etc., and then invest zero after they receive the grant.
And event ridership usually isn’t considered in the grant process either. Because, if the Feds dispersed money based on ridership demand after the M’s had a really good year, the odds are still that they go back to being the M’s. Ridership would not meet expectations.
“Ah, because the government doesn’t dispense money based on future “potential”. The government scores the proposals based on current reality and not on future potential or “promises” by various entities to invest in things.”
It bases it on zoned potential that’s either approved or near approval. Seattle could have improved Aurora’s score by upzoning it sooner and larger.
In any case, they were both viable alternatives even without upzoning. ST never said Aurora wouldn’t be eligible for a federal grant or would score poorly.
Okay, so you’re suggesting that ST should have picked Aurora despite their own numbers suggesting that it was less productive, because someone had a hunch that the numbers were wrong.
If one of us felt that both numbers were wrong, and they should use Lake City Way + Bothell Way to go to Kenmore, Bothell, then up to Lynnwood that way, should they follow that route instead? I mean, my hunch may be as good as yours…
Sorry if this sounds snarky. The process is there for a reason. Simply not believing “the numbers” isn’t a good way to design policy – in fact, it’s what one of the political parties does all the time, with disastrous outcomes. Let’s be principled about this.
Mike, I think you are missing the point. Cities and neighborhoods like Bellevue, Ballard, West Seattle, Roosevelt are not saying they have some 70 year old latent distaste for rail. They are saying they don’t want to see it or hear it. They either want it underground or “over there” someplace.
Since they tend to feel the same about freeways, and figure land along a freeway is undesirable for living and is generally cheaper ROW, if Link isn’t going to be underground then the obvious location is along freeways since that land is already undesirable.
I think it is unfair for a Seattle urbanist like you to demand all of Link be below grade, including two long tunnels, from Sodo to Northgate, and then complain that other cities and neighborhoods are not going to locate surface or elevated Link in their town centers.
I see surface rail in European town centers. Why not downtown Seattle? Why must DSTT2 be below grade, and WSBLE in Ballard and WS and even Roosevelt?
Link is regional rail. It wasn’t hard for ST to look at the route and subarea revenue and realize three subareas could never afford underground Link, so those subareas were going to locate Link near freeways and see if they could come up with first/last mile access. They located Link exactly as they would a freeway.
Al is probably right ST’s decision to not tunnel under Bellevue Way was because ST misunderstood the subarea’s revenue after ST 3 That was a terrible mistake because the subarea had the money. Three other subareas never had the money so ST (and you) should not be surprised they located Link next to freeways way in the air.
ST believes Link can convince folks to live in dense housing next to a freeway because Link is not underground in these poorer areas because that land is inexpensive because it is next to a freeway. For publicly subsidized affordable housing in which the tenants have no choice ST may be correct. For market rate housing my guess is folks will want to be in the town center and figure out some way to get to Link.
Outside Seattle I don’t think Link will have much walk up ridership, which is why first/last mile access was going to be critical but add the dreaded transfer.
But you can’t blame subareas for locating surface or elevated Link along freeways when they would have done the same for a freeway which has a hundred times more benefit for an area than Link, especially post pandemic.
“you’re suggesting that ST should have picked Aurora despite their own numbers suggesting that it was less productive, because someone had a hunch that the numbers were wrong.”
It’s a political decision and judgement call where to build Link. Ridership is one factor, not the only factor. And I don’t think the ridership difference is that much, although I don’t have the numbers. You’re talking like Lynnwood would lose a thousand riders, or twice as many as Aurora would gain. I don’t think it was that extreme. Four minutes is not that much difference. It just loses a few riders at the margins, as all tradeoffs do.
5 years after MAX opened in 1986, over $1 billion in various types of property development had happened around the stations, and that was when $1 billion was a lot of money (MAX cost $274 million).
Rainier Valley has seen impressive growth.
Okay, so you’re suggesting that ST should have picked Aurora despite their own numbers suggesting that it was less productive, because someone had a hunch that the numbers were wrong.
You are assuming that the numbers drove the process. This sounds quite reasonable. Ask a consultant to see what lines would get you the highest ridership per mile. Or estimate costs, and figure out what will get you the highest ridership per dollar. Go a step further, and figure out which stops would get you the most rider savings (number of riders multiplied by how much time they save) compared to the dollar spent. Let this type of thinking drive the process as you go through each iteration. This is basically how it is done all over the world.
But it is not how things are done here. Not even close. The entire Sound Transit rail system was built around a so called “spine” — a line from Tacoma to Everett. There was not a single bit of evidence to support this idea. Someone just thought it sounded nifty. This type of thinking drives everything. Skip First Hill, even though all evidence suggests it is a crucial stop — more important than anything north of the UW. Add only two stops at the UW, well, because that sounds about right. Run a line from downtown to Ballard through Interbay even though Sound Transit’s own study showed that Ballard to UW was a better value. Ignore bus integration with some stations (130th) while focusing on it with others (145th).
Sound Transit is not a data driven agency. They are driven by whim and fancy. A subway line from Tacoma to Everett just sounds impressive — like it is big league. It will be like what major cities have. Except of course, no one — not even really big cities — builds anything like that. Oh, they definitely have miles and miles of track. The New York City Subway is huge and Link will be a close second in terms of mileage. But the greatest subway in America (by a huge margin) does not extend from the urban core as far out as Link will. If you were to mention this idea — the basic driving force behind Link — to a consultant they would laugh. They would think the idea is absurd. They would tell you the opposite — start with something much, much smaller, and make sure you do it right. UW to downtown Seattle — with lots of stations — then make it bigger. Who knows, maybe eventually you leave the (very big) county limits, after covering the city and inner suburbs thoroughly. But you don’t blow all your money on this mess. You don’t even have decent bus service in most of the coverage area.
“Cities and neighborhoods like Bellevue, Ballard, West Seattle, Roosevelt … are saying they don’t want to see it or hear it.”
They’re pushing the stations away; that’s the most important point. That directly makes it harder to use Link and decreases its potential. We weren’t talking about underground vs elevated in the denser neighborhoods you mention.
Re Bellevue, I and others suggested a solution compatible with its desired city hall tunnel: an underground station in the middle of the street. That would have been closer to the bus bays and the Bellevue Square area, and eliminated one crosswalk crossing.
Re Bellevue Way, that was primarily Kemper Freeman’s opposition to Link near Bellevue Square, because he’s an anti-train VIP. It never got to the point of tunnel vs elevated alternatives on Bellevue Way because it was dismissed immediately.
Roosevelt wanted a station its center. It wasn’t objecting to an ugly track at the edge of the neighborhood, it was insisting on the shortest walk from the center — as all stations should be. Roosevelt did the opposite of what Bellevue, the CID, Des Moines, and Ballard’s 14th advocates are doing.
Pacific Highway is not anything like Roosevelt or Ballard. It’s a wide arterial like Aurora. Des Moines wasn’t objecting to an ugly track and stations, because Pac Highway is already ugly. It was objecting to losing and densifying some strip mall lots.
“I see surface rail in European town centers. Why not downtown Seattle? Why must DSTT2 be below grade, and WSBLE in Ballard and WS and even Roosevelt?”
Where in Europe is a tram built after 1980 all surface in a downtown as large as Seattle? Germany has been building downtown tunnels for its existing trams in cities as small as Bielefeld (330K). The issue is travel time. Portland’s MAX and Dallas’s DART crawl through downtown because of their surface alignments, hindering trips. Germany builds downtown tunnels to avoid that.
I did not object to Ballard or West Seattle elevated. I’m even warming up to Ballard surface as a way out of this mess (something on 15th or Leary Way), or West Seattle along Fauntleroy Way.
Roosevelt was never about underground/surface/elevated in the same location. It was about moving the station right to the neighborhood center, and underground being the most appropriate for that. And in the end the underground alignment was less expensive anyway, because it avoided weaving up and down and around I-5’s fragile infrastructure. When you’re already building a tunnel, it’s cheaper to extend the tunnel even several miles than to build a separate tunnel. That brings the cost of a tunnel extension closer to elevated or surface. We can leverage that elsewhere if there’s a place we can do so.
“The entire Sound Transit rail system was built around a so called “spine” — a line from Tacoma to Everett. There was not a single bit of evidence to support this idea. Someone just thought it sounded nifty.”
It wasn’t just nifty. It was to have a more comfortable ride, more frequency, and — especially — immune from the severe traffic congestion and collision bottlenecks that plague the region. It was to connect the largest cities in the three-county area. It was because Everett, Lynnwood, Federal Way, Tacoma, and Issaquah were afraid of getting left behind economically and becoming the next slums if they remained so hard to get to them from the money centers of Seattle and Bellevue. Not because Link is nifty, but because it’s high-capacity transit. We can argue about whether a different train mode or beyond-ST2 BRT would have been better, but that doesn’t change the fundamental reason for a spine. It’s because Everett, Tacoma. and Bellevue are the largest secondary cities in the region, and Everett and Tacoma are the largest cities in their county. And they can’t just move closer in. And if the population and jobs did move closer in (e.g., if we grew Lynnwood and Federal Way instead of Everett and Tacoma), then the sales/business-tax money would not go to Everett and Tacoma — contrary to what those cities want and their counties want.
I was going to post but Ross’s post hit the nail on the head.
I think the original fundamental mistake was not recognizing the small regional population, subarea equity, how many of those could or would ride transit, and size of the three counties .
ST, DOC and the PSRC tried to paper over this with unrealistic future population growth estimates, and TOD zoning, but even the PSRC realized at least half of any future population growth would disperse into the undense parts of the region, and it would take AT LEAST another 5 million residents to create the ridership for the three county spine to pencil out.
Even then most of that half would locate in Seattle, which lost rail capacity in the urban core by paying to run it to the county borders to complete the spine.
Pretty much everyone who is realistic now recognizes future population growth will be very mild, even flat for years, and recent proposals to upzone remote SFH homes when Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Redmond, Everett and cities in between already have probably 5 million in unused housing zoning capacity that has not been developed to the zoning capacity indicates folks are giving up on urbanism, probably due to the demise of downtown Seattle which was the one place real urbanism was possible. All the rest of Seattle is just mildly upzoned residential neighborhoods with some minor retail unless a major grocery store or mall. A piroshki shop on 3rd is not urbanism.
The PSRC always suspected a lot of future population growth would migrate to more remote areas of the three counties in search of an affordable SFH, so maybe throwing in the towel on “urbanism” when it is failing in Seattle and increasing density in the remote SFH zones makes some kind of sense, although outside the Seattle core my guess is most development will be a SFH home replacing a vacant lot. Who moves to SnoCo or SE King to live in a four plex?
I think planners will look back and recognize the classic mistake of most of western U.S: zoning 6500 acres for development pre-GMA first, and then trying to create some kind of modern urbanism. At those times folks just opposed any kind of land use controls because land was limitless (like today in this region if you have a car)
Today urbanism in this region boils down to a SFH or four plex on a large lot with restrictive regulatory limits and no retail or transit service. Pretty sad planning and zoning if you are an urbanist in this non urban region. I guess we are all suburbanites these days.
To be fair, I wasn’t supporting the process as it happened; I was questioning the idea that one should not follow the process as it should happen because of one’s arbitrary beliefs.
Having said that, yes, I do support the process as it should happen (i.e. based on ridership), subject to political constraints (i.e. is something better than nothing, even if it’s not perfect? How much should equity factor into the process? etc.) And reasonable people (I think those involved in this discussion all generally tend to qualify) can disagree on that. But disagreements based on the relative trade-offs between hard numbers and politics are different than trade-offs that ignore one or the other. The difference is subtle; but I find that the former tends to yield better results, as it doesn’t raise people’s hackles as much. So I’m just advocating for inclusiveness :) And assuming good faith.
6500 sq miles, not acres.
“I think the original fundamental mistake was not recognizing the small regional population, subarea equity, how many of those could or would ride transit, and size of the three counties. ST, DOC and the PSRC tried to paper over this with unrealistic future population growth estimates”
Whose mistake? It was the counties and largest cities who spearheaded Sound Transit’s creation and insisted on the Spine. “Sound Transit” didn’t impose it on them; they pushed Sound Transit to do it. They make up most of ST’s board, so if they’d wanted something different, they could have directed ST in a different direction. The PSRC has a minor side role, and I don’t know what “DOC” is. This all would have happened regardless of whether the PSRC exists. The cities wanted regional transit between them. The suburbs are 5/6 of the population, and they wanted to focus on transit to them rather than a more compact, more intense network. Subarea equity and suburban dominance is what caused everything you hate about the Spine.
I am not trying to place blame Mike. We are way past that. The irony is I think Link is predicated on an urban/TOD philosophy, but as you note if one subarea got screwed from the spine it was N King. Seattle is the subarea that should have objected since so much of the north/south spine was built on its revenue at the expense of urban subways. I think urbanists and transit advocates thought it didn’t matter because there would be ST 4, 5, 6….
I don’t “hate” the spine. I just think it was an unwise use of transit dollars, that should have been apparent to someone based on regional population and the size of the three counties. An idiot could see that, and that the routing to try and make the spine meet the budget made little sense to me for commuter, regional, or urban rail. Basically ST or the subareas built a freeway on rails. Now they hope to justify the spine with TOD along freeways.
What I think is more important is the region’s (or legislature’s which is dominated by Seattle) pivot away from urbanism. The new plan is to disperse growth and even existing population which is a departure from the GMA and PSRC. I think the switch is the decline of so much of Seattle, especially downtown, as a safe, walkable, retail and housing rich experience which is leading folks to give up on that vision. Basically it is 1970 redux, a flight to the suburbs and mildly upzoning those SFH zones because that is where people want to live today, not in the urban city, although the density they bring often destroys the thing they are seeking, a common phenomenon.
It will be interesting to see if the “spine” ever reaches Everett or Tacoma. Subarea revenue suggests it won’t without additional levy funding. A “spine” from Lynnwood to FW or Fife and Redmond is not what I would consider a good transit investment. No one should ever “hate” the spine as long as there are transportation alternatives.
It was to connect the largest cities in the three-county area.
Right, which is a stupid idea. Might as well run a mass transit line to Spokane (which is bigger than Everett). This suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of how transit works, despite the fact that there are very easy-to-read books covering the basics, or you can just skip to the Cliff Notes version. Density, Walkability, Proximity, Linearity. At most they got one. Even looking at cities is silly. A “city” in this context is simply an arbitrary political boundary. Draw the boundaries different and the whole thing collapses. This approach misses the most fundamental aspect of a transit system: It serves neighborhoods, not cities.
There simply aren’t a long string of dense neighborhoods from Everett to Tacoma, and there never will be. Almost all of the dense neighborhoods are in Seattle and (to a lesser extent) Bellevue. In the zest to serve cities, they skipped over the handful of neighborhoods that really should have rail.
Of course there is value in connecting the city centers of Everett and Tacoma with Seattle. But it should do this the standard way, which is with commuter rail when possible (leveraging inexpensive existing rail) or express buses when it isn’t. And riders from those other, fairly distant cities should be able to travel to the various neighborhoods of the big city quite easily.
Yet it fails in every respect. Even going the other direction fails. When the dust settles, getting from anywhere in Seattle to downtown Tacoma will be difficult on both ends. First you have to get to Link, then you have to ride Link a very long distance (with many, many stops) then you have to take a bus (or trolley) to downtown Tacoma. Somehow it manages to fail in every important way, despite spending more than just about any city our size has ever spent on mass transit.
And yes, they could have seen this coming. This was not based on the recommendations of a team of transit consultants. This was based merely on a hunch. Someone, somewhere, thought it sounded good, so that was the goal. There was not one bit of evidence to support the idea, but they went ahead, because it didn’t matter.
I do support the process as it should happen (i.e. based on ridership), subject to political constraints (i.e. is something better than nothing, even if it’s not perfect? How much should equity factor into the process? etc.) And reasonable people (I think those involved in this discussion all generally tend to qualify) can disagree on that. But disagreements based on the relative trade-offs between hard numbers and politics are different than trade-offs that ignore one or the other.
Yes, absolutely. But Sound Transit has largely ignored hard numbers, and Mike is not. There are a number of different ways to crunch the numbers, with various metrics. One way to look at things is with existing ridership. The ridership pattern north of Seattle is relatively simple, actually. Generally speaking, most people along the I-5 corridor are headed to Seattle. Not Ash Way, not Lynnwood or Mountlake Terrace and not even Shoreline. Seattle. Aurora is different. People really are stopping at various places along the way. Thus, based on existing transit data, it is quite reasonable to extend the system (after thoroughly covering Seattle) in this manner:
1) At some point have a station that works as a feeder for all the buses that travel along I-5 headed to Seattle. They don’t need to stop anywhere until they reach Seattle (freeway stations like Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood are just nice bonuses).
2) Have the train cut over to Aurora, and then go along Aurora. Riders will take stops along Aurora (like they do today) while appreciating the direct all-day connection they never had, to places like Northgate, UW and Capitol Hill.
There is actually a much stronger data-driven case for building what Mike suggests that most of what ST built.
You can make a “ridership study” produce essentially any result you want by choosing what assumptions to make in your model and which statistical methods to apply. A difference in projected ridership of a few percent between I-5 alignment vs. SR-99 alignment is essentially just noise. It’s no different than saying a candidate is “winning” the race for president because a single (probably biased) poll puts them one point ahead.
RossB is absolutely right to question these studies.
“I am not trying to place blame Mike.”
You keep repeatedly saying Sound Transit and Seattle and the PSRC forced the Spine on the poor defenseless Eastside, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties. I’m saying it’s the other way round. The suburban cities and counties used their population power and legislative seats to fashion a BART-like network they wanted. Sound Transit’s only unique fault is recommending light rail technology for such a spine. The suburbs went along with the technology but made the network the way it is.
“Seattle is the subarea that should have objected since so much of the north/south spine was built on its revenue at the expense of urban subways. I think urbanists and transit advocates thought it didn’t matter because there would be ST 4, 5, 6….”
Seattle/urbanists realized they were outvoted and would never get what they want. So they settled for at least getting stations on Broadway and Brooklyn instead of the I-5 express lanes, and routing it through Rainier Valley, and trying to get it faster than MAX, and one or two additional stations, and a line to Ballard. It wasn’t about ST 4, 5, 6… We have no idea whether those would pass or even come up for a vote, and you have no idea what would be in them, as I don’t. Not even ST does. We know a few wishes that have been expressed here and there, but not whether those will still be strong goals when/if ST ever gets around to thinking about an ST4 system plan.
“The new plan is to disperse growth and even existing population which is a departure from the GMA and PSRC… Basically it is 1970 redux, a flight to the suburbs and mildly upzoning those SFH zones because that is where people want to live today”
I’ll believe it when I hear somebody else confirm it. I’m not even sure what you mean.. I can’t see Bellevue, Kirkland, Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Everett reversing their urban village plans. Maybe you mean officializing the de facto tract-house sprawl in unincorporated Snohomish and Pierce Counties. Seattle is not going to stop its village growth plans. Its comprehensive plan update will probably be denser than it is now (taller villages, wider villages, and/or x-plexes between villages), although we won’t know until it’s final. If the units exist, people will fill them, so the population growth will go to the cities that build the most units.
When ST is ready to proceed on ST4, the first step will be to update the long-range plan. That’s a months-long process with hearings and feedback and a board vote, so we’ll hear all about it. For ST3 it started in late 2014. The long-range plan is everything ST thinks it might possibly want in the future, without cost estimates. The ST2 long-range plan had a Georgetown bypass line; a Madison line; a U-shaped line from West Seattle to Jackson Street, 23rd, and Denny Way (which could have fulfilled the “Metro 8 vision), and a Ballard extension to 85th. All these were deleted in 2015.
The next step is to come up with a menu of candidate projects and costs. That’s where the projects to upgrade DSTT1 or build DSTT2 were. This started in December 2015.
Then ST selects some projects and integrates them into a system plan. This was in early 2016, and is the basis for the ballot measure and representative alignment. The board approved that circa April and finalized the ballot measure by the summer.
I’m not expecting ST4 until the mid 2030s at least. 2036 and 2040 will be presidential elections, so those might be likely times. By then it will be a new generation of boardmembers, public, values, regulations, and environment, so who knows what that generation will want then.
There is no “zest to serve cities.” There is a zest to serve PSRC’s designated growth areas, which check the density and, to a lesser extent, walkability boxes. What grinds Ross’s gears is ST is building a network for where it expects density to be, not where density is at today.
Daniel, “I see surface rail in European town centers. Why not downtown Seattle” – read this: https://humantransit.org/2009/10/karlsruhe-the-tramtrains.html and this: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2020/11/03/tram-trains/ … TL;DR – you run trains on the surface in urban areas when the ‘passing through’ ridership is immaterial. This is not true in Seattle nor Bellevue, but is perhaps true in Tacoma, Everett, Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah, and other possible tails of the Link network.
“There is no “zest to serve cities.” There is a zest to serve PSRC’s designated growth areas”
That’s the same thing. The PSRC growth areas are in the largest existing cities. Where they’re in non-city-center areas (Kirkland, Issaquah), that’s because of the city’s choice. The intent is to redirect growth that would be happening in those cities and counties anyway into more walkable areas with more services rather than tract-house sprawl at the fringes. A true urbanist agenda would redirect all that growth to Seattle instead, but many people want to live in the suburbs, and those cities wanted the jobs and tax revenue that come with those residents.
Ross was criticizing ST making decisions based on arbitrary municipal boundaries and my counterpoint was ST’s station locations are based on neither municipal boundaries nor arbitrary locations. Ross can (often quite successfully) criticize a specific station location or a specific PSRC growth centers as not meriting transit investment, but to connect municipal boundaries to Link station locations was lazy analysis.
“true urbanist agenda” oy vey! Can I introduce you to my friend One True Scotsman? Directing all urbanization to Seattle is a very dark & pessimistic vision. Infill growth across the region, not just within the arbitrary municipal borders of Seattle, is the best path to a more vibrant and sustainable Pugetopolis. We are not a Detroit or Cleveland that needs to channel anemic growth into small pockets of the metro.
I agree with every point you made in this comment, Mike: https://seattletransitblog.com/2023/01/20/open-thread-north-american-buses/#comment-903529.
This played out in a weird way, politically. It was mostly just bad luck, really. Had Forward Thrust gone through, we would have a solid system covering more of the city. Additions would have come by now, as the city grew. If Sound Transit wasn’t created, then a few years later the “return to the city” movement probably would have lead to a more urban-oriented rail plan. This came about at an odd time, and the politics of the region played a big part. I really don’t want to delve into the political aspect of this though — I think Mike has a much better understanding of the history — my main point is that the end result is crap. Our system will never be anywhere close to as good as what Vancouver BC has, despite spending much more money.
Ross was criticizing ST making decisions based on arbitrary municipal boundaries and my counterpoint was ST’s station locations are based on neither municipal boundaries nor arbitrary locations.
Nonsense! As Mike pointed out, PSRC “growth centers” are based on cities, which are arbitrary boundaries. Just look at how few there are inside Seattle itself. The decision to focus on a very large, sprawling region instead of its urban core was arbitrary, and definitely driven by the fact that there were well known cities at its ends. From a political standpoint, it is obvious why they choose the plan they did. Everyone has heard of Tacoma and Everett. Because they are cities! Not only cities, but relatively big ones in the region. But that size is based on the purely arbitrary boundaries that make up the city. There are very few dense areas within either city. More importantly, they are a lot ways from Seattle.
If you look at the literature surround ST3 it is obvious they are selling the concept of connecting cities, not connecting neighborhoods. When they do mention neighborhoods, it is in the context of gigantic, broadly defined ones, not neighborhoods small enough to walk. Ballard, for example. This is how you get 14th instead of 20th. The goal is to serve “Ballard”, meaning anywhere north of the canal, and west of Fremont and Phinney Ridge. Not the heart of Ballard, or “downtown Ballard” or the Ballard where everyone actually lives, works and visits. West Seattle is the same thing. It may seem like shorthand to only call out “West Seattle” instead of “Alaska Junction/Avalon/Genesee & Delridge” but it is the same idea. The implication is that this will benefit all of West Seattle, just like it will benefit all of Ballard, Everett and Tacoma. This simply isn’t the case, but by painting in such broad strokes, the board was able to convince the public — and itself — that it would. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of what mass transit (as opposed to other forms of transit) is good at.
Directing all urbanization to Seattle is a very dark & pessimistic vision. Infill growth across the region, not just within the arbitrary municipal borders of Seattle, is the best path to a more vibrant and sustainable Pugetopolis.
No one is arguing that inner suburbs shouldn’t grow. But growth dozens of miles from the urban core is not the same as growth close to it, or in it. It is much more difficult to serve with transit, or anything else for that matter. It is the difference between a European city and say, Los Angeles. Oh, and even if that is your goal, why the hell are we building train stations next to the freeway? Is that supposed to be your new city center — in the middle of an interchange? Never mind that all evidence shows that simply won’t work*. It is a bizarre vision that should have been put to bed fifty years ago.
There is a zest to serve PSRC’s designated growth areas, which check the density and, to a lesser extent, walkability boxes. What grinds Ross’s gears is ST is building a network for where it expects density to be, not where density is at today.
Ha, the fallback position of every failed mass transit plan. Just give it 100 years, it will be a success then. You are ignoring what it fails at the worst — proximity!
Look, we know that most of the stations outside the city fail when it comes to walkability, because they will be close to the freeway. It is also fair to assume that PSRC’s optimism about suburban growth and pessimism about urban growth will be wrong for the next decade, just as they were wrong during the last one. But even if those assumptions are wrong, it still fails in the most fundamental manner — it is way too far to Seattle! Do you really think that Ash Way will someday resemble First Hill? Do you think Lynnwood or Everett will be big enough that they need their own very expensive mass transit system that just happens to overlap with the one serving Seattle? If so, why is the stop spacing so huge in Everett? Do you think Tacoma — bigger and more urban than those other cities — would have built a subway line from the airport to the Tacoma Dome if not for Seattle? Of course not. It is absurd. Every bit of this is based on the idea that a regional mass transit system makes sense as a way to connect to the very large, urban center, known as Seattle.
And that’s the part that is fundamentally flawed. It is really nuts to think that places that have very poor bus service will spend billions on a subway, while places with very busy, crowded and slow bus service will get nothing. Proximity matters. The suburbs — and surrounding cities — would have been much better off with better bus service, while the city would have been much better off with a traditional subway. Hell, the suburbs would have been better off with both. Thirty years from now, when the dust settles, people from the suburbs and cities like Tacoma and Everett will drive to Seattle, simply because it is difficult to get around the city by transit. If you are going from Lynnwood to Fremont, Ballard, the Central Area or Greenwood, you will drive. You may drive right by a train station at one end, and another train station at the other, but you’ll drive. That’s because the bus serving the suburban station is infrequent (because you spent all your money on the train) and the one in the city connecting you to your final destination is struck in traffic. Worse yet, travel within Tacoma and Everett will be poor, even though they chipped in a bundle on this thing.
It’s not municipal boundaries, it’s where the concentrations of residents and jobs are highest; i.e., vague city circles. The circles are centered on the existing downtowns and planned growth districts. These are well within the city boundaries in most cases, so moving the boundary a half mile affects only a few people and has little regional significance.
Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond decided in the 1970s to become real cities with dense-ish districts rather than just low-density bedroom communities. Lynnwood, Shoreline, and Federal Way all decided to densify their centers in the 90s for economic benefits. Bothell at minimum allowed seven-story apartments on the Bothell-Everett Highway (“towers in the park”), and they look like they were built before the PSRC started pushing cities to focus on mixed-use growth districts. I don’t know as much about Renton, Kent, Auburn, and Marysville; why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The larger cities have been more responsible in general for concentrating most growth. Unincorporated Snohomish and Pierce Counties have been the worst, just spreading low-density sprawl with no center to anchor it, so the de facto center becomes big-box stores. That’s what most needs to change.
That’s a long way to say “land use matters.” Could Ash Way become like First Hill? Sure, why not? Downtown Bellevue was strawberry fields within living memory. Ross wants the bird in the hand of the current great urban neighborhoods that exists; ST3 is dependent on the two birds in the bush of great neighborhoods that are yet to emerge. If the land use around ST3 stations fail to change, then ST3 will fail to achieve its goals.
ST3 needs growth to create the proximity requires for robust ridership. This is why talking about Everett Link or Tacoma Dome Link with respect to travel time to downtown Seattle is silly; Seattle isn’t nearby; those extensions will thrive on the basis of enough ‘there’ nearby, not ridership into Seattle.
AJ, what does the article have to do with what I wrote? I agree with most of the article. I recognized a long time ago that California’s environmentalism is anti-urban. (Marin County good, San Francisco bad, rural farms best.) That’s what has driven liberals to an unholy alliance with NIMBYs and blocked infill growth everywhere. Seattle and Eastside cities are at least growing infill significantly. San Francisco and San Jose and the other Bay Area cities largely blocked it, so growth sprawled out immensely instead. As a result, housing prices went into the stratosphere in the large cities where many people want to live, and even a closet in Hayward was over $2000 last I heard. It has become such a crisis that the state is considering overriding single-family zoning statewide, as Portland and Minneapolis have done.
The biggest problem with detached single-family housing is cliff-like drops in density right next to transit villages, which blocks their expansion area. I.e., the Surrey Downs and Mt Bakers of the world. The second-biggest problem is endless greenfield tracts, especially when it gets more than ten miles out from major cities. That’s where the carbon emissions are highest, non-driving is a practical impossibility, etc. In between we can compromise; e.g., the Lake Hills and Haller Lakes and eastern Rentons of the world.
Mike, I was responding to Ross’s comment prior to yours; looking at the time stamp, looks like we submitted at the same time? I didn’t see yours until I posted.
“Could Ash Way become like First Hill? Sure, why not?”
Now you’re sounding like Daniel. Another First Hill would be better off in Northgate, Shoreline, the edge of downtown Lynnwood, or Redmond. I’ve been pleading for Capitol Hill-like or Wallingford-like neighborhoods in the Eastside or South King County for years so that people who want that kind of middle-housing, walkable, no-setback, transit-rich, independent-store environment don’t have to all crowd into a few Seattle neighborhoods. There are people who want to live on the Eastside in that kind of neighborhood, but there aren’t any. So they either live in Seattle and commute across the lake, or live in car-oriented, chain-store oriented, not that walkable suburbia against their preferences.
By “true urbanism” I was trying to distinguish from “false urbanism” or “substandard urbanism” in the suburban growth centers. I wish those were more like Ballard and First Hill.
Ideally the density would all be contiguous or near-contiguous, and the outer suburbs (e.g., Issaquah and Sammamish) would never have grown, or would be bulldozed now and returned to rural. But the suburbs have most of the political power so that’s not going to happen. So we compromise. Suburban growth centers, even if they’re substandard or too far out or not in the established downtowns, are better than just replicating the 1970s suburban patterns.
Yes, Bellevue was strawberry fields, but it was already a suburban bedroom community when I moved there in preschool. So I have some bias because it’s been a suburb-turned-city my entire life. I’ve also seen Bellevue adopt the largest growth of anywhere outside Seattle, and been rewarded with one of the two best economies in the region. I’ll accept the 1990 suburban ring as the proper suburban growth boundary: Mountlake Terrace, Bothell, Redmond, Renton, Kent, Des Moines, maybe Lynnwood. That’s all within fifteen miles of downtown Seattle, which is reasonable. We should have focused on infill growth there rather than expanding into the exurbs. New York and Chicago were once like Bellevue in the 1950s and 1970s, but sensibly allowed middle housing throughout the city as they grew. That’s what Seattle and Pugetopolis cities lack and should have had.
I’ve suggested an area of mostly 3-10 story buildings from 24th Ave NW to 15th Ave NE and the Ship Canal to 55th or 65th, to be akin to Chicago’s North Side. That would allow for a lot more housing and walkable neighborhoods, and we could leave the rest as is for now. Of course this won’t happen either; it just expresses my ideal.
And the stations we’re talking about is one station — Redondo (272nd) — and two potential infill stations (one at 216th and another north of Redondo if I remember). KDM station was always going to be on 99, and Federal Way station in Federal Way’s center. 99 and I-5 come very close together at KDM station, so it was easy enough to swing over and back.
I see things that way, too, Mike. Both KDM and FW are a bit away from I5 while 272nd is surrounded by I5 and hard-to-develop ravines for the most part.
A note too on a 99 alignment: Its not enough to just build stations in the median of an arterial, because pedestrians may still have to cross the road. (ST seems to ignore that in station designs in general. Crossing 320th to get to FW Link will be scary, for example.) 99 is also pretty scary to cross in this area due to high speed traffic, and it takes 30-40 % of the right of way that I5 does. (Even going from Highline to KDM looks scary, and it’s too bad that ST is too cheap to dig an underpass for traffic so pedestrians could have a level traffic-free crossing to Highline.)
It seems a bit pointless to be a Monday morning quarterback about FW Link, yet I see 272nd as the “weakest Link” station in South King. It already is projected to have the lowest ridership of the three new stations by far.
Sam asked earlier which Link stations would have the lowest use, and I said Redondo is one of the most obvious ones. It’s a minor P&R surrounded by larger ones. It has no walk-up destinations. It missed the opportunity for walk-up destinations and an urban village at 272nd & 99. It’s not in a major crosstown feeder corridor like 130th. The Auburn feeder will go to Federal Way station. The Kent feeder will go to KDM station.
Re The Guardian article on CAHSR:
“In the depths of the 2008 recession, Californians were sold on a beautiful dream: a bullet train that would whisk them between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours.”
It’s not just a beautiful dream: it’s what sensible regions California’s size the world over have and prioritize. The Guardian is a British publication, and this author doesn’t realize England has been doing the same thing? “Let me count the ways.” Upgrading rail trunks to HSR all over the country. The London Overground, Crossrail, Jubilee line… all things that didn’t exist when I first visited England in 1998.
“The project was to be the start of a new era of high-speed rail that would eventually stretch the full length of the west coast, from San Diego to Vancouver, across the desert to Las Vegas, and, eventually, all across the continental United States.”
Woah, woah, woah. That was firmly a theoretical imagining and still is. The HSRs that have been proposed or studied are San Diego to Sacramento, and Vancouver BC to Eugene. Nobody is even considering filling the Eugene to Sacramento gap until after those two are completed and we can see how well they perform. HSR’s sweet spot is high-population regions of 500 miles or so. That’s definitely California and maybe Cascadia, but less so the gap in between. HSR isn’t proposed there precisely because there are no large cities there. A conventional bus across the gap is a fine medium-term solution. Preferably several times a day rather than once a day. And it would still be an 800-mile trip from Seattle to San Francisco, beyond than HSR’s sweet spot. And Portland is a smaller metro area than Seattle, so it can generate fewer Portland-SF trips.
And Cascadia has another model available: medium-speed rail (110 mph). That’s sufficient for Vancover BC-Eugene in my mind, especially if we’re not focusing on Cascadia-California trips. I’d also add a low-to-medium speed line from Seattle to Spokane. That would connect all of Washington’s largest cities.
Nobody has proposed HSR between Las Vegas and Chicago, or Spokane and Minneapolis. That has major challenges, and would be the last areas we’d consider.
Then there’s the substandard CAHSR alignment that added to the cost and travel time. Is that Palmdale? That’s not fatal flaw, but it’s one way the project could have done better, and maybe would have done better in countries that are more serious about transit.
“[Obama’s] national plan for 8,600 miles (13,840 km) of high-speed rail lines”
That was several regional lines in the highest-population regions, not national coast-to-coast rail.
In the end, the alternative to CAHSR is not nothing, it’s building more airports and freeway lanes. Compared to that, CAHSR is a sensible alternative, and needed to bring California’s transportation options more into balance.
“High-speed rail in California was always going to be a moon shot.”
Only because of the US’s messed-up priorities.
“Countries that have moved fastest on such systems tend to have a highly centralized governmental system, like France’s, if not an out-and-out authoritarian one, like China’s.”
We sent a man to the moon. We built an interstate highway system and airport network, and electric plants and water systems nationwide. We have space probes exploring the solar system. We built the Internet. We brought a new kind of vaccine technology to the public in record time. We have a common currency and ATMs and a cell phone system that works seamlessly nationwide. We’ve done all that since 1930, and most since 1945. Building a half dozen regional HSR corridors seems doable compared to that. Especially since countries around the world, most poorer than the US, have done it. It’s just a matter of will and priorities and attitudes.
The mid 20th century was also more “centralized” in the sense that people were willing to work together on common priorities for the good of all. And were willing to tax themselves to maintain infrastructure and build it for the next generation. Even with states and cities and corporations having autonomy, they worked together. That’s what has broken down.
“In the decades after the second world war, inter-city train travel faded fast because of the boom in car ownership, cheap gasoline and the interstate highway system.”
Because of the change in priorities and attitudes. It wasn’t just having the ability to buy cars and cheap gas and freeways. The rest of the world has those too. It was public policy that prioritized and subsidized highways and air travel and low-density greenfield development. It was attitudes that made us go that direction, and a few influential people who steered it the most.
The Netherlands in the mid 20th century was heading toward a Los Angeles future of car-and-highway dominance too. Then a public movement formed to reduce car-bike and car-pedestrian collision deaths by building protected bike corridors, improving transit. and not putting cars first. They did that to save the children.
There was also the 1970s oil-price shock. Europe wanted to be less dependent on mideast oil. That’s when the new wave of trams, metros, S-Bahns, and high-speed rail started. The US started heading that direction, but reversed course under Reagan, and found a new interest in SUVs, even more freeways, and airports, and highway-sized stroads, even in residential areas sometimes. All that was a change in priorities, not a necessity due to lack of resources.
“Then there’s the substandard CAHSR alignment that added to the cost and travel time. Is that Palmdale? That’s not fatal flaw, but it’s one way the project could have done better, and maybe would have done better in countries that are more serious about transit.”
The Palmdale alignment was picked because of the geographical issues that would’ve added cost to the project in building tunnels through the mountains. The travel time difference is small like 12 minutes.
Such a similar concern would likely be an issue if say Austria, Switzerland, France, or Italy wanted to spend money on a new train tunnel through the Alps. Like the Brenner Base Tunnel is projected to take 30 years to fully complete out the project.
Exactly, Zach. I don’t know why the Palmdale alignment got so popular to trash. The needed tunneling to get to the Grapevine incline would be more costly. Plus, Palmdale is more easily accessible to San Bernardino County (especially Victorville) and possibly Brightline West to Las Vegas. The Antelope Valley has 350k population without looking at users from nearby areas to the east.
I don’t know Southern California as well as I know the Bay Area. I’ve been to Los Angeles, San Diego, and their suburbs a few times. I just want a relatively straight line from LA to SF and Sacramento that includes Bakersfield and Fresno. I read that the chosen alignment has a large detour to reach a small city in one legislator’s district, which raised the cost and travel time. Looking at the map in the article, there’s a right angle and detour at Palmdale, so I guess that’s it. if that narrative is wrong, then what is right? 12 minutes does sound significant. It won’t shave four hours into three hours, but it’s enough to be concerning. Is Palmdale really that big, a strategic agricultural center, or what?
“Upgrading rail trunks to HSR all over the country.”
Even before that, in the 1970s a bunch of UK main lines got 125mph service with new trains.
You can travel the 212 miles between Liverpool and London in less than 2 ½ hours, in a train that is fairly conventional by European standards.
I’d heard the UK had “the worst rail network in Europe”. The first two times I went I stayed around London and Edinburgh-or-Glasgow, but the third time I got a Britrail pass and went all over the country and also went to Ireland. Those experiences showed me that Cambridge to London is twice as fast by train than by bus. Edinburgh to London is a few hours faster by train. The main lines between London and Reading, Edinburgh and Manchester, Manchester and Bristol are impressively high-speed. Even Dublin to Belfast has good trains. I didn’t think of taking a train between Dublin and Carlow because I assumed Carlow was too small a town for a train station, but when I took a bus there, there was a train I could have taken! My overall impression was that “the worst rail network in Europe” was ten times better than in the US.
It does depend a bit by what measure.
Switzerland and Austria are slow, but it’s mountainous. Nothing moves fast there so the trains are still competitive and in Switzerland they’ve had an effort at making what does exist really good. Something like over 50% of trips are by some non-driving means in Switzerland from what I have read.
Eastern Europe still has a basketcase of stuff in places.
But yes, in general the UK doesn’t seem to be considered especially exemplary. Except, the 125 mph diesel trains British Rail developed in the 1970s are still thought of as a huge step forward. Even now, the light weight coaches and locomotives are unlike any other standard equipment that has standard couplings.
A German told me a couple years ago “we need to have today’s engineers look at those British coaches of the 1970s, and see what can be done about the weight of what we are building now.”
The Seattle Times is reporting the $2 billion remodel of the Convention Center is finished and now open for business.
It will be interesting to see future use, and whether that translates into higher Seattle transit use and tax revenue.
I’ve been wondering that too. The convention market has totally changed since construction started. Still, it’s possible that many large conventions will be back. I’m just looking forward to the day I don’t have to cross the street to go around the construction site, like I’ve had to do for years.
Mike are you saying you don’t care about the long term public value of this new public asset and instead are only interested in mitigation the negative impact of construction?? I can’t believe that someone wouldn’t generously bear the indignities of construction disruption and always reflect happily on the long term value created for the public.
Snark is very much jest for Mike, but the irony of a “this project as no value, please just don’t impact my life during construction” take on a transit blog that rails against short sighted ‘good neighbor’ mitigation was too hard to pass up.
I’ve always basically supported the expansion, taking the county at its word that it has to turn down large conventions or multiple conventions because of lack of space, and the revenue will soon recover construction costs and then be net positive. At the same time, other cities are more aggressive about always providing a pedestrian path around construction rather than making pedestrians to cross streets. And there has been so much construction around downtown for the past many years that this has been happening many places. The next building east of the convention center was also replaced, so that extended the sidewalk closure another block. And the two blocks around Boren are four blocks long, so it was effectively four blocks.
Another place was the building at Rainier Square where PCC is: that closed both the 4th and 5th Avenue and Union Street sidewalks around it for months. At first I wouldn’t remember it was closed, so I’d end up getting there and then having to cross the street twice to get around it, on top of crossing it earlier because I thought it was open. Later it kept changing, so I didn’t know which sidewalks would be closed or not, so I proactively went around on the other side of the street, and then sometimes the sidewalk was open after all. I just wanted construction to slow down because we’d had so many of these for over ten years. Now finally it has slowed, and I look forward to the convention center sidewalk reopening and seeing the new building.
There’s also the covid-era question, whether conventions will still fill the center and pay back the loans. That’s a valid question regardless of sidewalk closures or whether you support the expansion.
Trade conventions will take a while to regain momentum, but you’ll still need sites for events like Emerald City Comic-Con and gatherings too big for hotel ballrooms. I also imagine the convention center could be a great place for World Cup fan fests.
The convention center will continue to be used. The question is whether it made sense to make it bigger. There was never a strong case for this, but they went ahead and built it anyway, making the same mistake that many other cities made. The problem is that there are only a handful of really big conventions. The first cities that built really big convention centers were successful, because conventioneers went there. But as more and more cities get in the game, this is spread to more places, and each city gets fewer conventions that need that much space. Overall convention space demand if fairly flat, while cities keep adding convention space. Some of that is to try and attract more conventions, but other factors (nearby amenities, hotels, climate, etc.) are bigger factors than a new and shiny convention. It is like an NBA franchise blaming poor attendance on the arena, instead of the really bad team.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/steven-pearlstein-debunking-the-conventional-wisdom-about-conventions/2014/06/27/77cac02e-fd5f-11e3-932c-0a55b81f48ce_story.html, https://www.city-journal.org/html/convention-center-shell-game-12511.html, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-06-11/is-it-time-to-stop-building-convention-centers, https://www.theurbanist.org/2016/05/05/washington-state-convention-center-expansion-is-not-inevitable/.
The argument for expanding the Convention Center in 2019 was that they should have done it in 2004 before the 2008 crash, to get all the tax revenue they missed out on by having to turn conventions away. They were trying not to repeat that mistake. They said just a couple years of conventions would recover the construction costs, and then it would be ongoing net positive tax revenue for other infrastructure and services we need, paid largely by visitors. I’m not an accountant intimately involved with county government so I can’t second-guess that. But the decision was pre-covid, when everything changed. And building during the recession probably lowered construction costs.
It’s unfortunate they found no way to utilize the tunnel entrance and have a walkway directly from the Convention Center to Westlake.
I wonder if that means the Washington State Convention Center Public Facilities District will start to pay back the 9 figures soft loan it received from King County Metro went it purchased* the CC bus station?
*KCM gave WSCC title to the land and in return WSCC promised to pay KCM for the property over a long time as a very small interest rate, a rate that right now is laughably below inflation.
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