Seattle’s streetcar dithering criticized in federal audit ($). Federal grant administrators are getting anxious about delays in spending the City Center Connector grant money, and grants for the Broadway streetcar extension (from Denny to Roy), and a SODO overpass grant.
But the feds also gave Seattle a grant to improve SODO’s pedestrian and bicycle safety. ($)
Free transit is extended to Seattle low-income housing residents ($)
Emeryville, California is an urban success story (Thomas Y)
Egypt’s new capital is an Ozymandian nightmare (Adam Something)
238 Replies to “News Roundup: Streetcar”
The streetcars seem mostly pointless unless they get signal priority. It’s usually faster to walk. Though I guess that could change if the routes were extended…
The same is true of the buses downtown.
Back in the days of the FRZ I used to park at my double secret spot on the NW edge of DT with the intent of taking a free bus down to the M’s games. What I found was that I could almost always walk faster than the bus.
And I once got off a RR-D bus and just started walking out of frustration at its speed. I actually caught up to the RR-D that was ahead of my bus. Crazy.
Yeah, the surface buses are a lot faster now. The funny thing is, using the tunnel is slower. It used to be, once you finally got to the platform (deep in the bowels of the earth) a bus would be there in seconds. Now you might have to wait almost ten minutes. It is often better to walk. Pretty soon though, the train will go to the East Side, and the longest wait will be five minutes (except late at night).
The ride free area ended in fall 2012 simultaneously with the implementation of Lines C and D; bus operation in the DSTT ended in March 2019; so, there were several years of fast “free” circulation trips. After March 2019, the DSTT was less useful for circulation as waits for Link were long. The headway is a Sound Transit choice; they could provide shorter headway and waits by spending more on operation. They are choosing to do so only with East Link. Before SDOT improved flow on 3rd Avenue, I would often skip downstairs at Westlake and transfer to DSTT services to go to IDS. Before Link in summer 2009, there were about 70 bus trips per peak hour per direction in the DSTT. The Bredas were lemons and Metro decided not to buy more; they also decided not to restructure very aggressively around the DSTT and Bredas. Downtown was often jammed between the falls of 2005 and 2007 when the DSTT was retrofitted for Link.
Ah, a highly deceptive post worthy of the times we live in.
Yes, if all you do is equate “wait times” with “speed”, and if any old bus will do regardless of its destination, then I’d agree with you. The old days with a swarm of buses going through the tunnel was faster, or at least had shorter wait times. But the number of riders for which “any bus will do” was a pretty darn small population, and skewed heavily towards bus riders who where mainly looking for a save place to shelter in place, or were maybe looking for a safe consumption site.
But I don’t think those kind of riders are a high percentage of the traveling public, even in buses. And I don’t think our response to the homelessness crisis should focus on transportation. It should focus on housing and services.
Also, the wait t8me are not “10 minutes” as you state. Current headways are 8/10 mins peak/mid-day, so the average wait time is actually 4/5 mins peak/mid, although lately I seem to be getting lucky ( no wait at all, not even time to sip my coffee!)
And don’t forget, when East Link opens these waits get cut in half!
Additionally, the bus tunnel actually works better now that it is rail only. Reliability is much improved, and transit times are slightly better.
So, ya, the big picture in the current DSLRT is actually pretty good.
a highly deceptive post worthy of the times we live in.
Are you accusing me of something? If so, spit it out. If you are going to make a personal attack, at least have the courage to be specific about your attack.
Yes, if all you do is equate “wait times” with “speed”
I didn’t do that. For any transit trip you have to consider walking to the stop, wait time, speed, and walking from the stop to your destination. You specifically mentioned a trip within downtown. For such a trip, the tunnel is a reasonable option, even though walk time can be lengthy. Frequency matters too, while speed in this case does not. If Link had BART speeds it wouldn’t make a bit of difference for the trip you mentioned, while it would make a difference for a trip to the airport.
But the number of riders for which “any bus will do” was a pretty darn small population, and skewed heavily towards bus riders who where mainly looking for a safe place to shelter in place, or were maybe looking for a safe consumption site. But I don’t think those kind of riders are a high percentage of the traveling public, even in buses.
Wow. Since when did a taking a trip through downtown — the exact trip that you mentioned taking — suddenly become about the homeless and addicted? Were you some magical exception, or did you really turns things around?
Oh, and thanks again for another attack on buses, this one laced with a good dose of classism. Your statement again, in case folks missed it:
I don’t think those kind of riders [mainly looking for a safe place to shelter in place, or maybe looking for a safe consumption site] are a high percentage of the traveling public, even in buses.
Even in buses? Are you implying that the homeless or addicted never take Link? Holy cow, have you ever taken Link?
But enough about your attacks on the poor and buses. Let’s look at the actual data, shall we: Sound Transit doesn’t have trip data, but it has published directional stop data for a while now*. Prior to UW Link, the train ended at Westlake. This makes it relatively easy to calculate. You can simply look at the number of people who get on a northbound train at CID, Pioneer Square or University Street. Around 1,700 people a day — or more than 10% of the riders — ended up taking the train without leaving downtown. More if you consider “downtown” to include Stadium or SoDo. We are left to speculate about bus riders, but it is highly likely that at least as many took the bus for that journey. It would be nonsensical to turn down a bus and wait for the train for such a short trip. Given that buses appeared more often than trains, it actually stands to reason that more people took the bus (although plenty took both). That is quite a few people — I doubt they were all “looking for a safe place to shelter in place, or maybe looking for a safe consumption site”.
Also, the wait times are not “10 minutes” as you state.
I wrote “Now you might have to wait almost ten minutes.” To quote the schedule:
5:32am – 8:46am Trains run every 8 min.
8:46am – 2:16pm Trains run every 10 min.
2:16pm – 6:16pm Trains run every 8 min.
6:16pm – 9:56pm Trains run every 10 min.
(Outside of these hours the train runs less often than every 10 minutes.) Thus most of the time, Link runs at 10 minute frequency or worse. The statement — that you might have to wait almost ten minutes — is clearly true, unless you think the schedule is wrong.
* See the last page of this: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/SIP2016_FinalDraft.pdf
“But the number of riders for which “any bus will do” was a pretty darn small population, and skewed heavily towards bus riders who where mainly looking for a save place to shelter in place, or were maybe looking for a safe consumption site.”
There were hardly any of those in the tunnel or on tunnel buses. That was mostly on the surface and on routes to a few neighborhoods.
I stand by everything I wrote.
And, as per the end of the RFZ and unsavory behavior, please review local history. The RFZ didn’t end because it worked well, it ended because of the exact problems I reference. It simply became untenable.
These problems have returned with a vengeance with the opioid epidemic and the recent lack of fare enforcement during the pandemic, but ignoring them, or pretending they are something else, doesn’t make them any less serious. And just allowing them to continue as is on our public transit system doesn’t do anything to help these people. They need housing and services.
But hey, I get it, you have something against Sound Transit, and Light Rail in particular. But stating the most extreme edge cases doesn’t help your cause. Everyone knows that the tunnel is actually working better and more reliably now that the buses are out. Ya, trains are only every 8 mins at peak. But that is better than what most specific tunnel bus routes were back in the day. And those wait times get halved in the near future.
And again, most riders aren’t going from Westlake to IDS.
And I don’t understand your complaint about how deep “in the earth” the DSLRT stations are. Metro built those stations, not ST. They are the same depth today as they were back in the hay day of the bus tunnel. Nothing has changed, except now the responsible agency is Sound Transit. But that doesn’t change reality.
And having ST in charge is not a bad thing. At least the escalator situation is improving.
I stand by everything I wrote.
Of course you do. Even when faced with facts and figures that clearly refute your argument, you stick with literally everything you wrote.
And I don’t understand your complaint about how deep “in the earth” the DSLRT stations are. Metro built those stations, not ST.
That is because you view every comment here as a critique of either ST or Metro. You make sure to point how bad Metro is, and how good ST is. Thus every correction (with evidence to back it up) is seen as an attack upon one of those two ideas. When someone mentions a weakness — not necessarily a critique mind you, just a weakness — you assume it fits into one of those categories. You assumed I was attacking your beloved ST. I was doing nothing of the sort. I was simply pointing out that it takes a while to get to a deep bore station. One downtown station that isn’t especially deep, is of course, the CID. This (plus its distance to Westlake) likely explains why it accounts for such a high percentage of the Link travel within downtown.
The only criticism I made of ST was the very poor headways most of the day, which of course hurts all trips, but especially ones like that. Oh, and as Eddie pointed out, the RFZ ended in 2012 (more facts!) which means that the data I presented (about Link ridership within downtown) was after that. Folks on the buses and trains had to pay.
There were hardly any of those in the tunnel or on tunnel buses.
There were over 1,700 riders a day on the train within the tunnel northbound. Who knows how many took the bus. But it stands to reason that more would take the bus, simply because it arrived more often. Thus it is quite likely that at least 3,500 people a day rode within downtown (defined as CID to Westlake inclusive). I would not call that “hardly anyone”.
Hardly any homeless people or addicts in the tunnel or on tunnel buses, I meant.
There’s the crazy never ending question of, “Why won’t people take transit?” But the real question is, “Why don’t people just walk?”
Living car free… or car-lite…. or whatever you want to call it means you’ll end up doing a lot of walking. I’ve always been OK with it…. anything under a mile if I have the time is fine, even longer. Depending on when (if?) the bus is coming… sometimes it’s just easier to hoof it.
Of course not everyone can “hoof it” and I get that. I carry a couple of cloth bags full of groceries about 4 tenths of a mile back to my house at least once a week just to prove I can “still do it”. At some point (mid to late 60s?) that just won’t be possible. And I’m too cheap for any sort of gym membership.
tacomee, there’s hope! I’m 77 and do a round trip with a good sized back-pack at least twice a week to one of the three grocery outlets (from highbrow to Grocery Outlet) within walking distance.
It’s beginning to be a chore, but it makes me keep walking.
And, yes Daniel, my wife and I have two cars, though the old one is mostly for sentimental reasons. We’re not welfare freeloaders, but we are “choice walkers”. Isn’t that the term?
Sorry to disappoint.
Tom, I rarely drive anymore. I walk to work through the town center so if I want a glass of wine after work I am there, or can walk to the Roanoke.
I like walking. Allows me to think. Reminds of being a graduate student in Dublin although I finally bought a bike. Very flat city although I rode drunk a lot of nights.
I drove my wife to the airport this morning but other than that doubt I will drive this weekend. I am not someone who drives for pleasure, but I don’t hate cars and blame them for all the ills in life either.
. I like living in a SFH — especially compared to the apartment complex my son lives in in the U District with neighbors who party and fight until 4 am — and that dictates most of my other decisions. I just can’t believe so many of us were sold on the stupid idea we had to commute to downtown Seattle to work for 32 years.
“Living car free… or car-lite…. or whatever you want to call it means you’ll end up doing a lot of walking. ”
That’s an important consideration for the North King and Snohomish Link Restructure conversation: an awful lot of that is really dangerous just to get to the bus stop. At least many of the major roads have sidewalks, but many gaps remain. Getting across those busy streets can also be painful. Getting from her place to Aurora Village Transit Center can take a long time just because of trying to cross 200th at the Interurban Trail.
Hardly any homeless people or addicts in the tunnel or on tunnel buses, I meant.
Ah, that makes sense. My mistake. Pronoun confusion.
Glenn, there’s not a marked crosswalk at the Interurban Trail’s crossing of 200th? That seems insane. I’d even expect it to have a flasher; it’s a major trail.
“I walk to work through the town center so if I want a glass of wine after work I am there, or can walk to the Roanoke.”
That’s great. But note that most people don’t have that opportunity. You’re living the urbanism that you say is unimportant. Only a very few single-family house lots can be within walking distance of a village center. That’s ten walkable houses compared to thousands of houses on Mercer Island. I’d think the number of families who’d like to live within walking distance of the center is more than ten, but they don’t have that opportunity unless we make more areas walkable.
I’ve encountered those sidewalkless streets on 3rd Ave NW, Meridian Ave N, N 137th Street, and somewhere in Lake City.
In some cases like Lake City, the closed Safe Streets basically created a safe walking route to compensate for sidewalkless streets.
Actually Mike quite a few SFH’s ring the MI town center. Many more have a short bike ride. In fact I got my bike fixed up and had lights put on it and plan to start riding to work which cuts my “commute” from 20 to 5 minutes.
Plus there are around 3000 multi-family units in and around the town center, and less than half the town center’s zoning capacity is built out. But the plan that these multi-family dwellers would go carless or car-lite never happened and so too many park their second car on the streets. Like Seattle.
MI has essentially no intra-Island transit (even though I pay a lot of taxes that go to transit), but citizens can find parking in the town center. You have to drive to Issaquah for the big box stores like Costco, but I-90 is a breeze these days, but MI has two good grocery stores on the north end and one on the south end.
The only difference between your life and theirs is you take the bus to a vibrant retail area like U Village and walk around and they drive and walk around. Most like me on this blog own a car.
My wife can’t live this “Urbanist” life. Her job is on the south end of the Island, and did I mention we effectively have no intra-Island transit. Plus when she shops she buys around 8 bags of groceries at a time, including beer, pop, water, cat litter, wine, and other heavy items. And the dry cleaning. Tom would need one of those wood boxes sherpas strap to their backs to do the shopping.
The chances she would have walked to the bus stop with her suitcase in the dark to catch a bus to go to Link in Seattle to get to the airport was less than zero.
I still drive if I need to go off Island, like Whidbey Island or Ravensdale or Home Depot. I just don’t drive to work because our firm moved out of downtown Seattle. I don’t think walking to work is more moral, and I don’t plan on going car free, and in fact plan on switching to my bike because biking is much faster (and good exercise although my ride will be too short to get much exercise). I don’t plan to drive this weekend — except to the airport — because I plan to garden and meet folks at the Roanoke.
The reasons suburbia is built around a central town center like the Pale of yore are because folks want to live in a SFH, and we want to condense what little retail small cities have so it is walkable. We don’t care that we have to drive and park to get to the retail, whether MI, Issaquah, U Village, etc.as long as when we get there parking is obvious, adequate and reasonably priced (although not necessarily free), and the retail/restaurants are walkable, vibrant, eclectic and safe. We go to where the best retail/restaurant vibrancy is unless we don’t want to leave the Island. Why retail thrives in some places like U Village and not others like downtown Seattle is not my problem because I can drive to where the vibrancy is (although I am smart enough and old enough to know it won’t be on 3rd Ave. Of course if you plan to drink use Uber.
“Glenn, there’s not a marked crosswalk at the Interurban Trail’s crossing of 200th? That seems insane. I’d even expect it to have a flasher; it’s a major trail.”
Yeah, that area treats those on foot and bike, well, not great, around Aurora village. Cars and transit are prioritized heavily.
Then if you are trying to keep going north, You have to reconnect to the trail in the woods east of Meridian. It’s been rewilded, almost. Certainly an adventure. I used to cut through the cemetery instead, if I was riding up to Lynnwood. North of 205th is a very broken, hard to follow route, half on non-arterial residential streets, but generally pleasant on bike if you manage not to get lost.
It needs work. They should have blazed a path just the east of the Home Depot or something, to at least finish the King portion. Once in SnoHo, they basically didn’t try. They took a bit of right-of-way under the powerlines, but other than that it’s just some signage through neighborhoods.
The streetcar isn’t terrible in my opinion, but they did bite themselves in the butt with a few different planning and design decisions.
Creating two separate disconnected lines that don’t connect at all in the first place. The lack of planning to extend the lines elsewhere. Like the SLU streetcar up Eastlake to the U District for example. Not integrating stations for both bus, trolleybus, and streetcar service on major arterials like Jackson and Broadway. They both seem like perfect streets to rebuild with island stations to serve multiple transit modes and help speed up service on said streets.
ETB’s and the Seattle Streetcar (with pans) don’t play nicely together. In SF where the center island stops are shared by streetcars and ETB’s, the streetcars use trolley poles connected to the ETB “hot”. The rails are the “ground” for the streetcars, the “return” for the ETB’s. Since there are no pans to short the circuit, everything works.
Check the “special work” at 12th and Jackson. Oy vey!
It definitely gets complicated. It is possible to do by offsetting the trolleybus from the streetcar, so you wind up with two sets of trolleybus lines above one lane.
Ideally though you rarely need that as the streetcar isn’t mixed with other traffic.
My experience with the streetcar is the FHSC, although I have ridden the SLU streetcar. I have just never understood the streetcar as transit.
They are incredibly expensive to build, even though the road already exists. The tracks are dangerous for bicyclists.
Second the route is fixed. The route for the FHSC is terrible but cannot be amended because the tracks are laid. No one is going to develop or build TOD because of a streetcar’s route.
Third, in my experience they are slower than a bus on rubber tires, and no more comfortable. They start so slowly. There is no grade separation. The frequency for the FHSC was not good.
Fourth the stops are not where the other buses stop so you can combine buses and routes along the same route. You actually have to cross into the center of the road to catch the streetcar on part of the route.
I tend to look at all modes, including cars and Uber, when making a decision on mode. I just want to know what is fastest, safest and most convenient because there is very little difference in cost among the modes for this trip.
From my old office in The Smith Tower, when going to my dentist on First Hill, I could:
1. Walk there faster, especially down the hill.
2. Take Uber there much faster, especially up the hill, and the cost was not that much greater.
3. Drive faster and pay $6 to park at my dentist’s office.
4. Just take a bus up Jackson and walk faster because any bus would do, without the crazy “equity” loop.
What strikes most non-transit nuts is the enormous costs for a streetcar. We just can’t understand why an agency or city would spend that kind of precious public money to place rails on an existing road that can serve ordinary buses that have much better flexibility. You don’t see a lot of cars with steel wheels.
I think the streetcar (and WSBLE) are the kinds of things that give transit and government a black eye, because it is so clearly spending other people’s money badly for something that is essentially supposed to serve the poor which is why it is so heavily subsidized but is suddenly ideological (mode fetish). It makes transit look profligate and non-serious, and stupid, and that is a stigma a lot of non-transit advocates have about transit to begin with.
“I have just never understood the streetcar as transit.”
That’s because they’re a bad example of streetcars. Running in congested traffic destroys their advantages and wastes the investment. I’ve been trying to show in videos how non-US trams are a quantum leap more useful and attract large ridership, by running in exclusive lanes with downtown tunnels. In other words, Link on MLK and DSTT is what streetcars should be like, although streetcar trains would be smaller and not the primary regional transit trunk. So if we hypothetically had heavy rail south through Georgetown and with Link’s northern alignment, an exclusive-lane streetcar on MLK or Rainier could be a secondary service that complements it.
Another problem is the vehicles are old-generation technology. The rest of the world is racing ahead with state-of-the-art trains, but the “Buy America” rule prevents American agencies receiving federal grants from using them, and the US doesn’t have a large enough urban-rail market for the companies to set up US subsidiaries. United Streetcar in Clackamas, Oregon, was one company but it failed.
A third problem is streecars can have higher capacity than a bus but ours don’t. That’s a chicken-and-egg problem, because exclusive-lane streetcars with better routes and higher frequency would attract more passengers and then you’d need the higher capacity.
The Seattle/Portland definition of light rail is “mostly exclusive lane or grade-separated”, and a streetcar as “can be in mostly mixed traffic”. That’s the problem right there: streetcars like that shouldn’t exist, and the rest of the world stopped building them after WWII.
Around 2000 SDOT had a round of hearings asking whether Seattle’s next phase of transit should be focused on light rail, streetcars, or buses. I said, “light rail or buses but not streetcars”. Light rail is faster so it’s a new level of service more competitive with driving. Buses are inexpensive so you can have more frequent corridors. Streetcars are the worst of both worlds: more expensive than buses but no faster, so what’s the point?
The City Center Connector promises exclusive center lanes on 1st Avenue (shareable with buses). That’s a catch-22: to get it we’d have to invest more in streetcars, while the majority of the routes would still be in mixed traffic. So that’s a tradeoff in deciding whether to build the CCC.
“Second the route is fixed. The route for the FHSC is terrible but cannot be amended because the tracks are laid.”
If you put them in a good location and have a walkable city, you won’t need to move them.
“in my experience they are slower than a bus on rubber tires,”
That’s not a limitation of streetcars; it’s our particular street alignment. The SLU streetcar stops every block at a red light between Stewart and Denny, on top of the too many stations every two blocks. The 40 and 70 run on the same streets and don’t have that problem.
@Daniel, you know, I think the transit nuts are not really to blame for the streetcars. People to blame I think are city officials and real estate owners who see the streetcar as something that increases real estate value and is a tourist amenity. It’s also a piece of monumental symbolic architecture that attempts to communicate, “look! We are modern, and we are dynamic.” These motives are a primary issue with transportation spending, because what is good transportation for cities and regions is not necessarily the same as what increases land value or serves as monumental architecture.
Andrew and Mike hit the nail on the head in terms of the issue with modern American streetcar planning. On paper, streetcars aren’t terrible means of transport. Europe has tram (basically what a streetcar is) systems that are heavily used and well integrated into their city’s transit fabric Amsterdam, Kraków, Florence, Helsinki and Milan come to mind. But American politicians forget that just rubber stamping a project doesn’t make it good if it isn’t built on a solid foundation in the first place.
They look at Portland for instance and say “why don’t we have that, the ridership numbers economic development are really good” and forget what makes the Portland Streetcar system work. Which is to say that Portland stret grid is built really well for a streetcar system with small street blocks and good density. They also removed street parking along the route, worked with Trimet to build the Tilikum Crossing to be used for multiple transit modes (bus, streetcar, light rail), the city was very good about getting developers on board to build new developments along the routes, and act as a compliment to MAX, FX BRT, Bike sharing, and buses.
The closest modern streetcar project I’ve seen live up to being successful is the Kansas City Streetcar. Which while has ridership around 5K currently (though rebounding quickly from the pandemic and closer to 2019 numbers now) has been working on building out extensions to extend it further north and south. With possibility for other extensions in the future into Kansas, the airport, and other parts of the city on important bus routes.
I do agree with Mike that Buy America definitely kills a lot of innovation and competitiveness for buying good rolling stock for streetcars. There’s Brookville, Siemens, and Škoda and that’s it. When other countries use Alstom, Bombardier, Hitachi, Stadler, etc. If we didn’t have such onerous regulations, we’d probably have more options in terms of transit rolling stock options and would give local competitors a good kick in the pants to be more innovative *looks at Brookville and New Flyer*.
I’d also say that at least with streetcars and even BRT for that matter, their problems are a lot easier to fix time and cost wise than a badly designed metro or light rail station, which you’re stuck with more or less forever. Amsterdam’s transit authority GVB actually recognized this themselves with their badly designed Amstelveen line and turned it into a proper tram line that works for the area it serves.
So streetcars/trams aren’t inherently bad, but the recent ones are just built on bad intentions and design and not practically.
Portland’s streetcars really don’t work that well, for the same reason they don’t work that well everywhere else: there’s too much traffic congestion around them. If they had dedicated lanes, the ridership would be vastly better.
They were built because certain business with political sway wanted it.
The only streetcar project in the northwest that made sense was the Waterfront streetcar: much of it was separated from traffic, it did something you couldn’t do with buses (no return loop at the north end so no interference when freight trains are at the crossing at Broadway), and designed to fit the tourist nature of the waterfront by using old car designs. Naturally that’s the line the city abandoned.
In 2019, the cast per passenger-mile for Portland Streetcar was $3.25 and $4.23 per trip.
This compares to $0.80 per passenger mile and $4.28 per trip on MAX (sure, the cost per trip is slightly higher on MAX, but people are willing to use it for much, much longer trips).
I use 2019 because I don’t think we’ve yet determined what “new normal” is going to look like in terms of ridership. I can tell you each time I see a Portland streetcar, it’s still very empty, just like they were in 2019. So, we’ll probably see propaganda at some point about how much less streetcar ridership fell than anything else (because there wasn’t that much to begin with).
And yes, I know that ridership numbers for the Portland streetcar are higher than Seattle, but there are a lot more miles of line. Considering how much is next to these lines, it should be doing vastly better.
The only streetcar project in the northwest that made sense was the Waterfront streetcar: much of it was separated from traffic, it did something you couldn’t do with buses (no return loop at the north end so no interference when freight trains are at the crossing at Broadway), and designed to fit the tourist nature of the waterfront by using old car designs. Naturally that’s the line the city abandoned.
I agree completely. The waterfront streetcar took advantage of old rail lines as well. It really had a lot going for it. Ridership wasn’t high, but that wasn’t the point. It did things that are difficult otherwise, while catering to the tourists. With the viaduct gone, it would have been even more popular.
* Broad Street. When BNSF blocked the crossing at Broad Street, it was not possible for the waterfront #99 buses or the waterfront shuttle route that replaced them to turn around.
Broadway is the Portland name, and naturally that’s what my autocorrect prefers to change things into.
The waterfront streetcar was single-track, which limited its frequency to 20 minutes. That made me not use it because it was just as fast to walk a half mile than wait for it, and it’s really boring waiting. The only times I used it were for the longest trips or with a disabled relative.
I had a friend from Melbourne, Australia, visit once so I took him on the streetcar. (The cars were bought from Melbourne.) He said it reminded him of his childhood.
The issue with Seattle’s streetcars is simply that they came about for more political rather than strategic transit operations reasons. More bluntly put, they overlay rather than replace local bus service — and the design in mixed traffic but stuck on a fixed rail path means that they usually move slower than a bus would. It’s “cute” but it’s not efficient nor as effective as a longer bus route is.
The CCC project at least attempted to somewhat remedy this — but it’s not a particularly compelling fix. Plus the elimination of the AWV ramps put more traffic north-south through Downtown at a time when other traffic lanes were being removed.
I honestly think that if we gave up the notion to connect the two lines (or connected them with a one-way streetcar couplet on Pike and Pine) and the streetcar had been part of the waterfront AWV replacement (remember the historic streetcar there?) it would provide a useful service in front of the ferry terminal as well as a number of waterfront attractions that today aren’t great for close transit access.
The issue with Seattle’s streetcars is simply that they came about for more political rather than strategic transit operations reasons.
Replace streetcars with “Sound Transit”. As the years have went by, Sound Transit projects have just gotten goofier and goofier with political pork added on.
In Europe, where transit actually works, people would be so pissed off about broken escalators in the old tunnel as politicians prattled on about digging a second tunnel that might not be needed for 25 years.
I wouldn’t say Europe is completely free from dumb transit projects, translohr comes to mind. As does the people mover in Bolonga from the central station to the airport with the station in the middle of nowhere along the way to the airport.
Oh man, thanks for that one! I had never heard of translohr before. Crazy idea. An attempt to make a rubber tired system that looks and smells like a real light rail system, but has all the disadvantages of rubber tired BRT systems, including higher installation and operating costs, rougher ride, and lower reliability. Plus a few additional new and novel problems unique to the system.
And of course it doesn’t work well in snow.
I don’t see why any municipality would select the system, unless maybe their main industry was manufacturing rubber tires.
The issue with Seattle’s streetcars is simply that they came about for more political rather than strategic transit operations reasons.
Yep. Someone basically went “Hey, where can we put a streetcar? Maybe here?” instead of what should happen, which is basing mode decisions on the task at hand.
Oh, and then there was Paul Allen, who thought the SLUT would transform South Lake Union. That wasn’t what did it. Tech jobs (and being half way between the UW and downtown) was the key.
Folks ignored the basic advantages of streetcars, and just thought they were cool. Streetcars are a niche market. They really only make sense when you can’t afford to get grade separation (and build a real subway, like Link) but the buses are too crowded. There is nothing like that in Seattle. The only area where we come close to that kind of demand is downtown, where we have both a subway (with big trains) and a spine (with two lanes of buses both directions, and thus massive throughput).
The streetcars are silly, but the extension is even sillier. If this was a bus route, it would be laughed out of consideration. You certainly wouldn’t then propose replacing it with a streetcar (there is no way it will need that kind of capacity).
Replace streetcars with “Sound Transit”. As the years have went by, Sound Transit projects have just gotten goofier and goofier with political pork added on.
Yep. Same basic problem. It was “Where shall we run the marvelous trains” instead of “What is the most cost effective way to improve transit”.
I think it’s plausible that the SLUT played a role in signaling and therefore economic development. If People Who Make Decisions think a streetcar is important, then it is important from an economic development perspective.
Now that SLU has turned into a vibrant, develop(ing) neighborhood, the streetcar’s value is reduced to just mobility.
Are there other ways to signal desirability to induce development? Sure. Street trees, sidewalks, and bike lanes are all good examples. But there is a difference between saying, “the streetcar did nothing to help SLU get off the ground” and “sure the streetcar helped, but gee there were much better way to spend that money.”
Don’t forget the stupidity of two incompatible car sizes.
A German friend told me that would never be done in Europe if they were building new. It exists in older cities where construction was by multiple private companies, but built new it makes no sense at all. In fact, he said the Skoda 10T3 design used throughout the USA for the basis of almost all current streetcar lines here was only built there in very limited numbers for several lines with tight clearances. What we call light rail cars is what is standard streetcar design there.
Picture the alternatives that would be possible had the Link wider car design been adopted as universal:
• a streetcar line could circulate within downtown Bellevue, hit Link’s line, cross Lake Washington, then go to First Hill.
• a streetcar could circulate in downtown Renton and then to First Hill, using the ML King segment of Link.
• a streetcar could operate on Market in Ballard, use the Link line to get to Belltown, and operate on the surface to connect to the current First Hill line.
These may not make sense, but none are even possible with the adoption of two incompatible car sizes.
I think it’s plausible that the SLUT played a role in signaling and therefore economic development.
I guess we’ll never know, but I doubt it. Ridership has always been very low. A lot of people just ignore it.
But more than anything, the area was bound to grow. It sits between the UW and downtown. Oh, and there is a very lovely lake there as well. Every planner in the country would tell you that is bound to have growth. There was nothing slowing it down, except maybe Mercer Street and the freeway. In contrast, the area to the south of downtown is industrial, and even it has grown considerably. Uptown and Belltown have exploded in terms of growth (and there is no streetcar).
South Lake Union, because it was an old industrial area that had lost it’s railroad line in the not too distant past, also had lots of large formerly industrial lots available to turn into large buildings of other types. This type of opportunity doesn’t present itself that often. I remember visiting the area in 2009 and seeing places where there were still branch lines across streets into places where warehouses once stood, but a number of sections of track hadn’t yet been pulled up or paved over.
Glenn, let’s not forget how ST didn’t plan on the same technology to run from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome to Downtown Tacoma surface streets. That oversight is the big one to me. Freighthouse Square isn’t near anything attractive except Tacoma Dome.
“I think it’s plausible that the SLUT played a role in signaling and therefore economic development.”
South Lake Union was industrial in the early 1900s. The Aurora expressway was built around the 1930s, and I-5 in the 1960s, with the Broad Street arterial and underpasses (now gone). The old industrial buildings became increasingly obsolete and the area decayed. The city planned to upzone it eventually but dithered for decades. It was obvious that upzoned office/apartment space next to downtown would be eagerly built up. In the 1960s through 80s the city was even more scared of urban zoning and nimbys than it is now, so that played a role.
In the 80s and 90s Paul Allen bought up several lots for a future real-estate empire. He engaged with the city and public on what kind of zoning and amenities would be acceptable. His first attempt, the Commons park on Westlake Avenue, failed at the ballot. So he built the highrise office+apartment towers without the park.
His first attempt to attract businesses was to make it a biotech center. A few companies came but not enough. The second wave in the 2000s was tech companies. Amazon moved from Pacific medical tower on Beacon Hill to SLU and established a headquarters there. At the same time, around 2008, Amazon started leasing out its online server capacity and created the “cloud computing” industry, which became gigantically successful. (If that hadn’t happened, the 2008 recession would have been much longer, and the tech industry and Seattle’s economy would be less than it is now). But getting back to streetcars…
Portland installed MAX in the 1980s and the first streetcar in 2000. Allen bought a Portland sports team and may have other ties there. He admired Portland’s streetcar and wanted the same in Seattle, especially one going to his real-estate empire. At the time Seattle was considering more streetcar, light rail, and/or BRT lines, but it was really Allen who championed a streetcar. He envisioned it as an amenity to make the area more popular — so that workers could commute in style, and tourist shoppers would come from Westlake to a second retail district. Since he based it on Portland’s streetcar and was involved throught the alignment design, he clearly was not bothered by its slow surface alignment, stations every two blocks, and nonexistent signal priority. Which means he didn’t understand transit: wanting to get from point A to B faster and more conveniently than the existing buses. The streetcar may be some good things, but it’s not good transit. Even though streetcar technology could be good transit if it has the right design and location — as many non-American cities have shown.
So the highrise towers would have come anyway regardless of the streetcar. The towers were just waiting for the zoning, which finally came through in the 2000s. The streetcar just made it slightly more attractive and maybe bid up the real-estate price.
Allen could have pushed for two transit lanes on Westlake, and reclaiming the old streetcar right of way on northern Westlake north of SLU. (Currently a bike train next to a miles-long parking lot, but the new streetcar tracks could be closer to the street or in it.) That would have gotten the city council’s notice because he’s a large employer. But neither Allen nor the city considered building a real tram line, just a toy streetcar.
And now we want to spend more money to connect two toy streetcar lines? The First Avenue center transit lanes are impressive, but most of the routes will still be mixed traffic. (Although kudos for the transit lanes on parts of Westlake south of Denny.) And the First Avenue center-lane segment is too short to make much of a difference; it’s just a half mile.
As a reminder, it will not be a single SLU-First Hill line. It will be SLU-Intl Dist and Westlake-Broadway.
Sigh – I sometimes wonder if the City Center Connection was really the correct way to go. To me, it would have made just as much sense to extend both lines to the University District where they could still connect. At least if they went to the University District, it could replace some bus routes such as the 49 and the 70 and actually provide a much more useful purpose. Alas, I’m afraid that trolley has departed.
Even if streetcars did go to the U-district, so what? We already have the 70 and 49, and it’s not clear what benefit the streetcar would provide over these existing bus routes to justify the expense of tearing up and repaving the street.
In the case of First Hill, there is value in having a bus that goes straight down Broadway past Pine, but you could get that anyway simply by adjusting route 49. Of course, adjusting route 49 would have the tradeoff of making it more difficult for some people to get to the northern part of downtown (in fact, Metro originally proposed this in the 2016 restructure, but backed away from it for this reason). But, if you extended the streetcar to the UW and wanted the streetcar to replace the 49, you’d have that same tradeoff anyway.
I’ve taken the streetcar between Capitol Hill and the I.D. many times. I don’t see how it could be faster than walking unless you are some kind of athletic powerwalker who doesn’t care about stoplights. I appreciate not *having* to walk, especially uphill, especially when it’s wet or when carrying bags. I wish we had more streetcars like it.
Right – for someone who is unable to walk, walks slow, or simply doesn’t like walking, a slow-ish bus or streetcar can still be very compelling.
The Times provided a fascinating insight into how federal grants are distributed … and how bureaucracy painfully slows everything down. Overall, it’s disappointing that SDOT held onto the unused funds and didn’t distribute them elsewhere.
So Stephen Fesler has a run down of the latest Community Transit proposal (https://www.theurbanist.org/2023/02/08/community-transit-updates-lynnwood-link-bus-restructure-proposal/). In it, he writes:
The proposal is very similar to the one we profiled last summer, but with some changes on the margins to route alignment, better frequencies on many routes, and a tad fewer new routes. However, some aspects of the proposal are paid for with less ambitious frequencies on specific routes than proposed in the last round.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell what those changes are. I sure didn’t gather that from this essay, which looks remarkably similar to what was written last time. Folks have asked us to do an update, but it is pretty tedious to go through each route and see if is the same (I’ve only found a tiny route change, and have yet to find a headway change). Anyone have some info on the differences (or want to figure it out)? I don’t want to write a post that states “It is mostly the same, with some minor difference I haven’t figured out yet”.
Doesn’t the far right column summarize the changes?
My only comment is that today’s service has a lot of one way expresses that would be good to see do something in both directions.
The far right column summarizes the changes from the current network. It doesn’t list the changes from the previous proposal. For example, it lists the Blue Line extending to 185th. That was in the previous plan (it has always been the plan).
It is much tougher to see if there are any changes to the previous survey and this one. Here is the map from the previous survey: https://wppo.blob.core.windows.net/ct-transtit2024/2022/04/System-Map-T2024-complete.pdf. Here is the map from this one: https://www.theurbanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/system-map-t2024-complete.png. The only change I could find is for the 222 (a minor change in Marysville). I’m sure there are others, but I stopped at that point. In terms of service levels, I don’t know of any differences (but mainly because I didn’t explore it in detail).
I think this is important, since the plans are coming closer to fruition. The little changes here and there are way more likely to be reverted, or altered further, than changes that are the same for each proposal. Something that was altered means that the planners weren’t happy with the first cut, which suggests they aren’t thrilled with the second proposal either. So not only does it make sense to focus on this when writing an article (otherwise you are just rehashing old news) but it is the area where input is likely to make the most difference.
One revision since the last proposal is route 130. On the western end, the new routing serves 100th Ave W rather SR104 in/out of Edmonds. This is a peculiar change because 100th Ave is a low density, higher income area where very few people – if any – have a desire to take the bus.
It is coupled (sorta) with new route 909: an all-day route that is designed to align with the infrequent Kingston ferry. That stays on SR104 but has less frequency.
It has been my experience that there is a sizeable customer-base in downtown Edmonds along 5th Ave S, many of whom are seniors living in higher density apartments, use the bus to travel to QFC/Bartlell Drugs/PCC at 100th & Edmonds Way. I much rather see the 130 retain its current routing.
RossB may have asked why the Orange line does not extend to/from downtown Edmonds. With its tight street grid and density, it seems to warrant much better service.
That was one of my questions too: whether there’s any strategic advantage on 100th or 35th-36th or if these were arbitrary choices. Metro used to have suburban routes on low-density streets that looked exactly the same as the surrounding streets, so I could never figure out why one neighborhood was lucky enough to get bus service while others with the same density didn’t.
It looks like they did that to get into Aurora Transit Center like it does now, but making it a direct east-west shot at it.
It’s already a pretty tangled run. It’s probably going to be one of those things where a vocal few like the theory of bus service in their area but then almost never use it.
Looks like the ferry is really irregular, with some trips 20 minutes apart and others over an hour? That’s not too infrequent (it’s not, say, Bremerton or Friday Harbor) but it’s a pain to plan bus service around.
At what point do we take care of our senior citizens with free transit? I can’t believe the politicians appear to not honor them.
Currently senior citizen can get an Orca card where they can ride any transit for one dollar. I have had one for years and I feel it is a good bargain.
Free might be nice but one dollar per ride including making transfers is not bad.
A $1 senior fare anywhere in the system including transfers is pretty darn good! I’d call that “taking care of our seniors.”
And if $1 is too much, there are other programs available. Although they are often aimed at the truly poor.
Note: I don’t have my Senior Card yet, but hopefully someday I will get one (assuming Metro doesn’t change the rules first!)
Why not just stick with low-income? Plenty of old people have plenty of disposable income and plenty of younger people are broke.
I have never understood giving discounts to “seniors” for transit or movies simply based on age. Meanwhile there are young people paying 7.65% of every dollar they earn to subsidize social security and Medicare, and their employer is paying the same, so over 15% of every dollar of wage comes out of the employee’s pocket. Studies show the vast majority of wealth in this country is held be seniors. https://www.cnbc.com/select/average-net-worth-of-americans-ages-65-to-74/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Fed%20data%2C%20the%20median%20net,the%20median%20is%20a%20much%20more%20representational%20amount. Which is why issuing cards to youths based on age alone makes sense, to some degree.
Should I get a discount on transit or to see a movie solely because of my age? I don’t think so. It should be income based. Unless statistics show seniors who ride transit predominately fall into a low-income stratum.
I also have a problem with issuing different colored ORCA cards for low-income people living in subsidized housing. According to the article folks living in low-income housing will be issued black ORCA cards.
One principle when issuing public subsidies is to not stigmatize the recipients. For example, kids are very sensitive about shame among peers, so issuing some kind of free lunch token stigmatizes them, which is why they are usually issued cash or the same card any other student uses. Same reason why a lot of private schools require uniforms: to standardize clothing among wealthy and less wealthy students, when students — especially girls — are very perceptive about the cost of clothing and accessories, and can be cruel at that age.
Some programs issue non-cash benefits, like food stamps, in order to try and limit the use to the intended use: food. But I don’t see how issuing low-income housing folks a black ORCA card meets any purpose. Is the concern they will transfer or sell their low-income ORCA card?
I am on a fixed income but my expenses continue to go up so I have to watch where I spent my money. So to make a blanket statement that plenty of old people have plenty of disposable income is wrong.
Many old people live from social security check to social security check with maybe a small pension and it is a stretch for them. Some of them rely on food banks to make it.
That is not what I said Jeff. I said there are plenty of seniors like me who don’t need a subsidy, and so any subsidy should be needs based, both to fund the system (transit) and to allow heavier subsidies for the poor by having well off seniors pay the same fare as anyone else.
You could easily apply for and obtain a discounted ORCA card (although I don’t think it should be a different color) if your circumstances showed you deserve a subsidy, but seniors — who statistics show have the majority of wealth in this country — should pay full fare if they can afford it.
It is nice that you have a good amount of disposable income but not all senior citizens are that lucky. Go to a food bank sometime and see how many older people are in line because without the food banks they would not make it.
I was also replying more to djw. I do have to agree with his last part of his post about younger people being broke. It is no fun getting old from a health and financial stand point but I would hate to be a young person these days trying to start both a professional and personal life. Entry level jobs that would provide the opportunities to make a career with good pay and benefits are no longer available. You need a college degree these days and that still does not guarantee anything.
It’s not just here. My parents in Houston as eligible for a free bus pass due to being 70+. As far as I know, they don’t actually use it (this is Houston after all).
As to why older people need a special fare exemptions, it’s worth asking why older people get breaks in so many other areas of life. They get Medicare. They get social security. They pay less property tax on the same house than a younger person would. Part of it is because we’ve all been trained as kids to respect our elders, so objective to such benefits comes off as rude and selfish. And the other part is that old people vote at much higher rates than young people, so politicians are much more concerned about pleasing older people, accordingly. Older people also have time on their hands to attend public meetings and complain about things they don’t like (thanks to being retired), further increasing their influence.
Social security, in particular, is basically a direct transfer of wealth from the young to the old. It is politically untouchable largely because the people claiming the benefits vote in much higher numbers than the people paying them.
Objecting to Social Security, asdf2, is not an example of “coming across” as rude and selfish – it is an example of “being” rude, at any rate. Not selfish, perhaps – I might go as far as calling it “misguided”, though. In particular because all those people who are getting SS also paid into it. The reduction of benefits that may (emphasis “may”) need to happen in over a decade is much smaller than one of the two major parties would have you believe, and quite easily alleviated by tinkering with the formula.
As to why the elderly “deserve” (not “get”, I won’t comment on that) benefits: it is not because they vote in higher numbers; it is because their earning potential is much lower, given the, on average, higher likelihood of health problems and inability to perform many jobs as well or for as long. So, in fact, it is the sign of a healthy, generous society to support the elderly. The fact that you believe otherwise is, I would venture to say, unfortunate, and perhaps worth deploring.
I hope that one day, long before you yourself are of SS age, you will change your mind about this. Supporting the elderly is just as valuable as supporting children, people with disabilities, etc. Please reconsider.
I believe that senior discounts became institutionalized with Federal operations funding requirements in the 1970’s. Of course there are places like Sarasota where a higher percentage of the working age adults are poorer than the retirees there. Granted, seniors of any income level more often cannot drive than working age adults so they deserve some special consideration to get service — but the blanket senior discount fare policy requirements do feel rather arbitrary. Why should Warren Buffett get a transit discount but not his housekeepers?
Medicare is not free as there is a monthly premium that is taken directly out your social security payments. And Medicare only covers a certain percentage of a person’s medical costs so most senior also must buy a Medicare supplement to cover most of those costs. Even with a supplement seniors still must pay some of their medical cost out of their pocket. Most supplements also have a monthly premium and in my case that is $390 a month and my monthly Medicare premium is $164.90. Medicare also has a yearly deductible which for 2023 is $223 before they start covering your medical costs.
As posted we paid into Social Security out of ech paycheck during our working years. So you should check your facts before posting about something that you didn’t know anything about.
And like posted you will get old and then you will find out what it is like to be a Senior Citizen on a fixed income.
Poverty in America is basically U-Shaped (https://www.statista.com/statistics/233154/us-poverty-rate-by-gender/). The highest rates of poverty are amongst children and the elderly. But there are plenty of people in every age bracket who are poor. There are some good reasons to favor older folks when it comes to transit (e. g. some can’t drive, and others shouldn’t) but poverty is just an American thing — it isn’t tied to age.
Social security, in particular, is basically a direct transfer of wealth from the young to the old.
Yes, that is what a pension is. Then, when you are old, you get it. The alternative is to work until you die. Social Security is one of America’s great programs — it reduced poverty in the elderly (and just the population at large) by a huge amount. It should do so for generations to come.
I have to completely agree with you on poverty as it doesn’t look at age as it can and does affect from the young to the old and in between and even more so in today’s economy.
The Census Bureau tracks poverty rates by age brackets….
There has been no greater program to lift seniors out of poverty than SS (and subsequently Medicare). Asdf2’s comments above in this regard are way off base. I would suggest he/she actually talk to some seniors about the programs they are enrolled in as I think he/she would learn quite a lot. My grandparents were all born prior to 1900 and I learned from them what life was like for most elderly folks prior to the creation of our social safety net. It wasn’t pretty.
Thank you, Ross and TIsgwm, for providing actual hard evidence on the topic.
This is a topic near and dear to my own heart – while not in the age range where I would benefit from SS or Medicare, I have relatives who are, and friends who are close to it. And I am always worried when the younger generations do not see the value of it.
On a meta note, I would strongly encourage everyone (of every age) to not fall into age discrimination or age rivalry. They are just another form of dividing those who would otherwise stand stronger together, and we all lose when that happens. This is true regardless of the issues – poverty, housing, transit, etc.
I am sorry Tisgwm but I disagree with the morality with SS and Medicare.
No one disputes they have been instrumental in reducing poverty for the elderly. At the expense of the wage earning working class.
Everyone knows that Bismarck and then FDR chose an eligibility age (65 in the 1930’s) that was a fraud because so few lived to age 65. That is why the tax rate was less than one penny per dollar combined.
The real poverty in this country is among the youth, epsecially education that is crippling them with debt, which the “elderly” don’t give a damn about, even when they descend into Medicaid nursing homes because they were crummy parents, or didn’t have kids.
The money is running out. The federal debt is over $31 trillion. Interest on the debt which is 30 years approximates the amount spent on SS. Meanwhile we are killing our youth with debt when any sane society would put anyone who stopped working on an iceberg and pushed it into the sea.
Demographics makes everything meaningless.
In two years I can opt for SS at the maximum rare even if I am earning well into the six figures. No one as smart as you believes either program is actuarial sound. .
Let’s cut straight to real horseshit about transit fares in greater Seattle. It’s rich White collar folks riding for free because Sound Transit, Metro, etc… shook down the companies they work for $$$$$$ to buy passes for them. If you work for Microsoft, why would you care what transit costs? You ride for free.
Those poor souls washing dishes just keep paying…. and it isn’t cheap and encourages fair jumping.
How about everybody pays $1 a ride and big employers keep writing checks to transit…. without buying employee passes, but because they should for good of the City?
Great discussion. Thanks.
I just don’t understand the priority for youth our state legislators had when they established the statewide grant when our elders could also certainly use and deserve having not to pay a fare.
Nice to see Emeryville, CA get a shout out. I know the tiny city well from my time living in the Bay Area. I’ve actually ridden the Emery Go-Round and it’s a nice free service to the MacArthur BART. However, despite the progress densifying Emeryville and adding housing, there’s better cities to live in the Bay Area if you don’t have a car.
The first time I took the Coast Starlight in 1987, I booked it to San Diego with a stopover in San Francisco. I expected to transfer in Oakland but my ticket said Emeryville. I’d never heard of Emeryville and didn’t know where it was. I looked it up to see if there had been a mistake, and found that Emeryville was a small city next to Oakland.
My second time in Emeryville was around 1998 when I went to the Esperanto bookstore. I took BART to MacArthur and the Emery GO-Round bus. I was happy to see the bus was frequent. I’d heard that Emeryville was dangerous so I kept a lookout, but I didn’t have any problems, and even then it looked like a promising walkable city, at least the area I saw wherever it was.
Emeryville strikes me as a strange city to select as an example of walkable urbanism. First, it only has around 12,000 residents, and second it serves a large number of work commuters who drive to Emeryville each day and then back home. Total area including water is 2 sq. miles with 0.8 sq. miles water. Not hard to be walkable if the city is 2 sq. miles, 1.2 sq. miles of land.
Mike is correct: crime is an issue in Emeryville. ” According to the most recent data from the FBI, the total crime rate in Emeryville is 12,621.7 per 100,000 people. That’s 438.01% higher than the national rate of 2,346.0 per 100,000 people and 389.03% higher than the California total crime rate of 2,581.0 per 100,000 people.”
For me personally, safety is the number one factor whether an area is walkable.
The Wiki statistics are from the 2010 census so maybe things have changed, although the crime statistics are from 2022.
If you want a walkable CA city try San Luis Obispo. Fantastic town center, very vibrant and clean, youthful with the college, dense, and walkable with lovely weather 9 months of the year, surrounding by undeveloped hills because CA does a pretty good job with zoning that protects natural areas and densifies cities although it is very car oriented. But once you get to the town center it is dense and vibrant and safe, which for me is the definition of walkable urbanism, just without the bus although bus service is pretty good. Folks in CA just don’t seem to favor buses even if transit service is pretty good. Very big state with a lot of nothingness in between.
“Emeryville strikes me as a strange city to select as an example of walkable urbanism.”
I just trusted the video; I’ve only been to Emeryville those two times.
“It only has around 12,000 residents”
That’s the size of a neighborhood. Every neighborhood should be walkable, and several neighborhoods form a larger city. The principle is the same regardless of whether the neighborhood is separately incorporated. I don’t know why Emeryville isn’t annexed to Oakland, but it’s probably the same reason Burien and Shoreline aren’t annexed to Seattle: Burien was incorporated a long time ago, and Shoreline wanted to limit density and central government.
“crime is an issue in Emeryville.”
And in neighboring Oakland and Richmond.
“the total crime rate in Emeryville is 12,621.7 per 100,000 people.”
That’s 13%. So the non-crime rate is 87%. I consider anything under 50% unlikely for average people.
“For me personally, safety is the number one factor whether an area is walkable.”
Walkable means physically walkable. Crime rates and demographics change more often and easily than physical infrastructure.
“it serves a large number of work commuters who drive to Emeryville each day and then back home’
Again, the issue is a physically walkable neighborhood. They can walk out their office door to lunch and retail and maybe parks. In non-walkable neighborhoods you can’t. People drive to Emeryville because the cachement area is the entire East Bay which is mostly car-oriented (and it doesn’t have peak expresses from everywhere). And as you pointed out, 12,000 people can’t staff all the businesses, and there may be a demographic discrepency; e.g., if residents are lower-income don’t have the skills required.
“If you want a walkable CA city try San Luis Obispo.”
OK. I don’t know anything about San Luis Obispo. What’s it like?
If your town is an urban success story, when you ask google what is the most dangerous small town in your state, your town shouldn’t be the answer.
Emeryville is an interesting situation. Frankly, it’s part of West/North Oakland but just beyond the city limits. Its history includes a period of time where a large steel mill was nearby. That’s the site of lots of the new redevelopment. The site is visible from the Bay Bridge freeway approaches.
The bigger issue I have with Emeryville is that it often stinks. The EBMUD major sewage treatment is just a few blocks away and the Bay tidal flats are nearby. No pics can compensate for the not infrequent obnoxious smells.
Plus the development is squeezed around several above -ground freeways and mainline rail tracks. It can be pretty loud. Again, photos don’t show the noise.
The city evolved as a tax dodge for waterfront development and industrial developments to not be part of Oakland or Berkeley. It certainly has embraced new urbanism but it is still not on BART and relies on buses. It’s kind of this denser urban pocket that many people just drive to.
Emeryville can be considered a suburb of San Fransisco, or part of a more independent East Bay. Same with Piedmont, which is completely surrounded by Oakland. It is like Ruston. Most people just assume it is part of Tacoma, but it isn’t.
What makes it interesting is that it does have independence, and thus can develop differently than Oakland, Berkeley or San Fransisco. Otherwise, it would be simply a neighborhood in Oakland. In terms of crime, is it any different than surrounding neighborhoods in Oakland? Not that I can tell. Is it safer to walk there, versus much of Oakland — who knows? But the type of things they mention certainly make it safer. Better bike paths, crosswalks, pedestrian bridges, slowing down cars — all of that makes for safer walking. It will be tough to tell for a while, as the pandemic was really bad for crime and traffic accidents (everywhere).
Where would it be useful to have last-mile shuttles like the Emery Go-Round? I’ve always liked that BART has shuttles like it and the Humphrey Go-BART and the Oakland airport shuttle, and Caltrain stations have shuttles to the surrounding tech companies.
There is a shuttle from Angle Lake station to the Des Moines waterfront but it’s too infrequent to be useful. And there used to be an Issaquah circulator route (200) but it was also infrequent.
We need an ambitious, not austere, bus plan in the next coming years especially for bus feeder routes to the regional transit lines (express buses, Sounder, light rail, etc)
If we want to reduce the operational costs that ST is going to be straddled with for the many years to come by as much as is possible we need to allow for large amounts of TOD around light rail stations with good bus feeder service.
Will it negate the costs completely? Not sure, not necessarily counting on it. But it will give the system higher chances in regards to its financial and ridership future which we need to try to keep our regional transit authority from bleeding dry by as much as is possible in the next few decades.
Reduce operation cost deficit*
With the loss of the commuter transit rider, and decline in fare paying percentages, TOD might be one of the last tools to help manufacture the ridership to help ST meet its very optimistic (pre-pandemic) 40% farebox recovery goal for O&M (Metro is 20% and Sounder I think 23%). At least that is what ST is hoping. This is an issue I have raised several times on this blog, and was the main theme in Rogoff’s last presentation to the ST Board last June 1 I believe.
The other tool is park and rides.
The key for both sets of riders is not so much first mile access because I think many riders understand they have to get to Link somehow, although how convenient and frequent bus service is will be critical IMO because any transfer makes a trip worse (depending on wait, walk, depth of station, etc).
The key is whether Link is going to where they want to go. I just don’t see riders transferring to another form of transit after getting off Link (hence the 322, 630 and 554), especially if they took transit or drove to a park and ride to get to Link, when parking is free in most of the region. That is why so much of Link was focused on downtown Seattle. When you got there you were there, parking was very expensive, you had to go there for work, and there are stations within close distance to one another. It is also why I think it was a mistake to not run Link along Bellevue Way between Main and at least NE 4th.
TOD can solve the first mile access problem for Link, but not the last mile access problem.
Unfortunately, ST has already built Link in the areas it makes sense and has the density for both first and last mile access and ridership. ST 2 and 3 now begin to move into the suburbs from Federal Way to Lynnwood to Redmond to Fife to Everett to Tacoma Dome, none of which is really a last mile destination, and which will be difficult to serve with first mile access, and ST based these routes on some very optimistic ridership projections even if most of the riders are just converting from riding a bus.
Will someone who doesn’t have to want to live in a TOD near a freeway so they can walk to Link, because if it is all affordable housing those folks will have free or subsidized ORCA cards which won’t help farebox recovery? They didn’t want to live there before Link when buses and I-5 served the area. Somehow ST or the developers have to lure folks to move to TOD along a freeway or train station when they have never wanted to live there before, and a high mix of the housing will be affordable housing.
Personally I don’t see it. Future population growth estimates are inflated, and ST refuses to address lack of fare paying riders. I think housing construction will be anemic for the next few years. The farther out from the urban core — which in Seattle is imploding — the fewer riders there will be and the lower farebox recovery, so ST will go backwards when it comes to overall farebox recovery. If anything ST should stop at Federal Way and Lynnwood.
In cities like NY they are looking at dealing with loss of ridership and farebox recovery with general tax increases. Some on this blog think the ST Board can just extend ST taxes forever to pay for O&M, although that is subarea specific, and I have my doubts.
I do agree with Rogoff that farebox recovery and future O&M costs are possibly the most critical issue for ST. I don’t think TOD will be the savior, and in the current market a lot of the larger TOD like in downtown Bellevue are likely being put on hold. It would help tremendously if downtown Seattle’s retail vibrancy returned. WFH just became permanent, and Link was always designed with the 100% fare paying peak commuter in mind because otherwise you don’t need the capacity of Link.
In a few years Lynnwood, Federal Way, and East/Redmond Link will open and we will see actual ridership in these suburban areas compared to estimated ridership. I know the eastside well, and I think actual ridership will be less than 50% of the pre-pandemic estimates of 43,000 to 52,000 boardings per day. Ridership on Link won’t magically increase over buses today because one is a fixed route light rail that now requires a transfer or two. The route is very bad, few eastsiders want to go to Seattle where parking is expensive and limited for work or play, most of the Bellevue large development I am aware of is on hold, and most will already be in a car if they have to go to a park and ride (to catch East Link, not a bus to East Link).
So who knows. I would not be surprised if some of the maintenance issues ST is experiencing today like station security and escalators/elevators is budget squeeze from less farebox recovery but don’t know. Maybe the Board can look at appropriating capital funding for O&M, especially if some questionable capital projects are scrapped, like WSBLE, TDLE, Everett extension, and Issaquah to S. Kirkland. Maybe the infrastructure bill will help out. Or a general tax increase. Or better fare enforcement. Or Seattle roaring back. All of these to me are more realistic than TOD creating the ridership to meet a 40% farebox recovery assumption.
“I just don’t see riders transferring to another form of transit after getting off Link (hence the 322, 630 and 554)”
Yet they transfer at U-District station to the 44, 31,32, and 75; at Roosevelt to the 45, 62, and 522; at Northgate to the 512. etc. They will transfer at Redmond Tech to the 156th route, maybe not people like you, but others who live in the apartments in Crossroads and north of Bellevue College and in low-income units, and if it had existed when I was growing up I would have taken it from my single-family area, as would others at my school.
The 554 is in a corridor without Link. [Edit: I originally wrote 522, but I was trying to say the 554 goes to Seattle because East Link isn’t open yet. The 522 corridor is permanently without Link, so it will get stride BRT instead.] The 322 is an unusual route, one of the last remaining of the pre-Link downtown expresses. Most neighborhoods don’t have a route like that, especially not to First Hill.
Link is focused on downtown Seattle because that’s where any high-capacity transit network in the world would be centered: in the downtown of the largest and historically-largest city, especially one where the constrained geography forces travel patterns into a T shape centered on downtown.
“I just don’t see riders transferring to another form of transit after getting off Link (hence the 322, 630 and 554)”
I’m with you, that is a clearly not the case. I see people transferring to/from Link every time I go by a Link station. Lots of them. It’s obvious, people have clearly integrated Link into their transit patterns. Even when a transfer is required.
Case in point: The wife and I are about to head to the airport for an extended weekend somewhere warm. Taking bus/Link. Return trip will be Link/bus. Works well, even with the transfer.
I agree Mike and Lazarus. It is obviously what is driving a lot of the ridership (just look at the numbers). Anecdotally, you can see a ton of people heading to the buses at Northgate and Roosevelt once a train stops there.
An update on our trip. The whole bus/Link thing to the airport fell apart.
The bus we wanted to take was slightly early, and my wife was not ready to go early. And OBA said the next bus was 23 minutes behind, even though they supposedly were running at 10 min headways. After that they were all bunched.
So that was the end of the bus leg. Wouldn’t work.
Uber was $80, I hadn’t made parking arrangements to get the normal deal, and walking to the station with luggage was out of the question.
So……. We panicked and had a neighbor drive us to the Link station. After that everything worked OK.
Lazarus, I don’t remember our earlier airport discussion. I’m guessing it was some northern neighborhood with a bus+Link trip. I can’t speak about its reliability without knowing the particular route. The 28/131/132 are notoriously unreliable in my experience, but many other routes aren’t as bad.
Metro is currently going through a bad period: congestion has wiped away reliability like it did in the 2000s. The 131/132 was usually 10-30 minutes late, then it got better in the mid 2010s, and now it’s back to 5-10 minutes late again. I also had reliability problems in the early 2010s on the 31/32/75 and 14/47.
Metro says the next batch of new service hours first needs to go to more runs just to make the current schedule reliable — before we can even get to higher frequency. That’s what happened in the 2010s.
I’m sorry your last airport trip was so bad. But that was always the risk with the 194 before Link, that it would get stuck in traffic and you’d miss your flight. The 194 was 10 minutes faster than Link on a good day, but it didn’t have its own right of way so that was precarious.
I think the point to take away from my recent bad experience with our bus/Link trip to the airport is a key one. Namely that reliability is actually more important than frequency.
With a low frequency but reliable system a person can plan their trip with great precision and arrive on time with a certain level of confidence.
However, with a high frequency but unreliable system a person is never sure what sort of trip they will have, or even if they will arrive on time. It is possible to have a bad transit experience even though the transit mode is supposedly high frequency. That is what happened to us.
I agree with Lazarus that reliability is more important than frequency. It is why people don’t like to fly standby. We live in a world in which most people need to be somewhere by a time certain and don’t want to waste a 30-60 minute cushion on each end of the trip.
But frequency is just another way of creating reliability, but a very expensive one. You need real density and ridership to afford frequency, which means poor people.
Some will argue lane dedication (for buses) is the key but the recent census puts transit trips at 5-6% of all trips. It doesn’t make overall sense to give 6% of all trips their own lane. Bike lanes are even less productive if the goal is to move people from A to B. Our problem in this region is so much of our transportation is ideological: walkers hate bikers, bikers hate everyone, bus riders hate bike lanes, we all hate cars parked on the street due to “density”, car drivers hate all of the above.
But ST should have known all along Link would succeed or fail based on first/last mile access, but ST sucked all the transit tax capacity out of the system, wasted much of it, and acted like it was above first/last mile buses, or actually though light rail would eliminate cars. ST should have always been merged with the local bus transit agencies. The irony is ST is now learning something it thought would never apply to it: budget deficits for capital projects and worse O&M.
Link runs rail along a tiny strip of three huge counties where few live outside the urban core and then expects cash strapped bus agencies to serve that huge area and to meet fantastical ridership estimates, and we haven’t reached the suburban routes yet.
Probably a park and ride that serves Link is the most reliable first/last mile access unless you live in a low income TOD next to I-5 but are flying to Paris. But the issue then is these are not transit folks. They took transit — and hated it — to commute long distances to Seattle because they had to, and parking was too expensive for them. Very, very few eastsiders will ever take Link to the airport. I had to get up at 5 this morning to drive my wife to the airport. The alternative was a divorce and she is a great wife, much better than I deserve.
I wish I had a solution to Lazarus’ problem but the only solution I can think of and use are: park near the airport with a coupon, or take Uber.
In the 1990’s transit was built around the notion that the entire purpose of the system was to provide one-seat rides (at least during rush hour) from everyone to one specific point (downtown). And anything else, everybody was expected to have a car and drive it, so whatever transit was available was provided with whatever funding crumbs were left.
The problem with this notion is that:
1) Downtown is not the center of the region like it once was, and the typical person hardly ever has reason to go downtown.
2) Cars are expensive, and a transit system focused solely around one-seat rides to downtown does nothing to make it easier for people struggling financially to avoid that expense.
If you have a private car at your disposal, it’s easy say that you only care about transit for one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s getting you to your twice-per-year special event downtown without having to pay for parking. But, if you don’t, you care about all of the places you might want to go, not just downtown, and when comparing two hypothetical transit networks, the one that takes a bit longer to get you downtown might still be better if it makes trips quicker to other parts of town.
Overall, a gridded system is the fairest way to serve the most people efficiently. People might often have to transfer, but only once, and it’s a quick transfer because everything runs frequently. When people ask for l-shaped routes to duplicate the grid route to avoid a transfer, they are effectively being selfish, asking Metro to starve others of the resources for good service in order to make their trip quicker. While these routes may be ideal for the specific people asking for them, they are bad for system riders as a whole, by making other route less frequent in order to pay for the special route. In a way, it’s no different then attending a service planning meeting, telling Metro that you’re the most important rider, you time is valuable, and you hate transferring, so Metro needs to pay for you to commute each day on an Uber, otherwise you’ll threaten to drive into downtown and add to congestion there. Great for you, but terrible for everyone else, and if Metro tried to assuage every single person who makes such a demand, they would go bankrupt.
Saying “reliability is more important than frequency” is like saying hops are more important than malted barley when making beer. You need both*.
With poor frequency, some trips just don’t work, unless you are willing to wait a really long time. For example, let’s say you have an appointment at 10:00 AM, and you can’t be late. The train runs hourly. It leaves your stop at 9:00 AM, and arrives right by your destination at 9:15 AM. Not only do you have to wait 45 minutes, but you also have to arrive (5 or 10 minutes) early at your stop because if you miss that train, you are toast. You are going to spend close to an hour just waiting.
One of the reasons — if not the main reason — that driving is so popular is because there is no waiting. Driving is actually a very popular mode for getting to the airport — somewhere around 90% if I’m not mistaken — yet is by far the least reliable. The car can break down, or you can encounter traffic.
The less frequent a bus, the more important reliability is. The fact that Lazarus canceled the bus trip even though they simply missed a single bus shows how infrequent it is. If the second bus was coming along five minutes later, it would have been no big deal. To quote Jarrett Walker:
Finally, frequency is a backstop for problems of reliability. If a vehicle breaks down or is late, frequency means another will be along soon.
Notice that it is the only mention of “reliability” in this essay about ridership, while “frequency” is a major bullet point item. People adjust to reliability. I would never make a tight connection when transferring between airlines, especially at a really busy airport (O’Hare). In contrast, at a small airport, with the same airline, I might cut it close. The same is true while taking the bus. You adjust. You maybe show up a few minutes before the bus is expected, knowing it is sometimes early. You pad your schedule in case it is late (similar to what drivers do).
None of which suggests that reliability isn’t important. It definitely is. Metro certainly has struggled with reliability lately — cancelling routes, and so forth. Under normal times this just didn’t happen, or happened as rarely as Link breaking down (which is rare). But reliability without good frequency is not necessarily as bad as the reverse.
* You can certainly make beer without hops or malted barley, but you get the idea.
I also think it is quite possible that a bus would have been along within that expected ten minute window. Unfortunately, the data that people have been relying on (which feeds One Bus Away and similar apps) is way less reliable than the buses or trains. I think Link has basically given up on the idea (otherwise I don’t understand why they don’t list the departure time of the trains). The buses are hit or miss when it comes to the data. I still use the apps (they are great for picking one bus or another) but if it suggests a gap between buses that greatly exceeds the frequency, I know the app is wrong. Often times you are better off just looking at the (static) schedule.
Oh, and when Metro analyzes routes, they look at reliability. There are a number of things that can make buses faster and more reliable. These include more right-of-way (bus lanes and BAT lanes) off-board payment and signal priority. All of these ultimately save service hours, which allow the buses to run more often (without additional funds). So faster, more reliable and more frequent. In contrast, you can make a bus more reliable by adding in padding. Set the schedule to the worst possible traffic. If the bus is “running fast”, the driver stops somewhere and waits a while. But that means that a bus will average a slow speed and that costs money (and is worse for many riders). Sometimes padding is a good idea (to avoid bus bunching) but often I would rather build in my own padding (like I do for just about everything).
I would not put the problems Metro is experiencing in these categories. The driver shortage has made it unreliable in very unusual ways. Basically, buses just don’t show up, or routes are cancelled. This has happened with the 73 more than once recently (you show up at the bus stop and there is a sign saying it is cancelled).
So let me get this right. What you are suggesting is that:
A). When a rider is dealing with a system that is known to be unreliable (the bus), and that,
B) When the rider is looking at actual reported bus data that they know is reliable (OBA), that then,
C) The user should just bet their vacation on the assumption that unreliable system is in fact reliable, while the actual reported data is in fact unreliable?
Sorry. I’m not taking that bet. Because you know what happens when you “assume”.
And, ya, I get that an operator can make up for at least some reliability issues by increasing frequency. But flooding the zone with buses is a highly inefficient and very indirect way to deal with a reliability issue. And it doesn’t always work. And it sure didn’t work on Friday.
Reliability is a minimum requirement of transit, not an extra feature. The whole point of having scheduled transit is it tells passengers when the bus will be there. When Metro says “Reliability has gotten low”, it means many buses are late, or they don’t show up for reasons other than driver-shortage cancellations. The reason they’re late is road congestion has gotten worse, and buses are stuck in mixed traffic. To solve driver-shortage cancellations, you hire more drivers. To solve unreliability, you add service hours to pad the layover time, split one bus-shift into two, and have more standby buses to swoop in for no-shows. Or you create more transit-priority lanes to bypass congestion.
“But frequency is just another way of creating reliability,”
Frequency allows people to pack more activities into a day. You travel when you’re ready, rather than waiting 20 minutes for a half-hourly bus. Schedules and One Bus Away allow you to wait at home rather than at the bus stop, but often you still can’t do anything but twiddle your thumbs. Cars don’t have to wait for driveway gates to open once every half hour, so transit should be as frequent as possible to be a viable alternative.
Best practices are every 5-10 minutes for core routes like the D, E, and 44; 15 minutes for secondary and coverage routes; and less for rural towns like Snoqualmie. All day and evening every day until 10pm. Light/heavy rail should be every 6 minutes, or at worst every 10 minutes. That’s the frequency you need to maximize ridership and convenience, and what cities with comprehensive transit have.
“the recent census puts transit trips at 5-6% of all trips”
That’s because our transit is so mediocre and doesn’t exist for many trips, and walkability is so poor. In cities with good transit, especially with good land use too, car use and ownership is less than 50%.
“Bike lanes are even less productive if the goal is to move people from A to B.”
Bicycling uses the fewest resources other than walking. Two bike lanes can hold more bikes than two car lanes can hold cars. They take up little space. Bicycles are light so they hardly put any wear on the roads. Bicycles don’t cause as many collisions, and when they do they’re not as fatal. Bicycles have no carbon emissions. People who bike are healthier than people who don’t, and that reduces costs to society and increases productivity.
“But ST should have known all along Link would succeed or fail based on first/last mile access, but ST sucked all the transit tax capacity out of the system, wasted much of it, and acted like it was above first/last mile buses, or actually though light rail would eliminate cars.”
Last mile access is outside ST’s authority. That’s the responsibility of the cities and counties. Obviously you need both high-capacity transit lines and secondary routes and access too. The counties and cities haven’t stepped up to fund those. It’s not because ST’s taxes are too high for it; it’s just that the counties and cities are neglectful and don’t prioritize it.
“ST should have always been merged with the local bus transit agencies.”
The reason ST exists is the local agencies repeatedly failed to put together all-day inter-county expresses; they kept being prioritized last after “My neighborhood wants a coverage route.”
“Link runs rail along a tiny strip of three huge counties”
That “tiny part” is the core of where most of the trips are. It connects the largest cities and several urban villages and institutions, like a rail line should.
“In the 1990’s transit was built around the notion that the entire purpose of the system was to provide one-seat rides (at least during rush hour) from everyone to one specific point (downtown).”
That was in the 1970s. In the 1990s was when we started fixing it, and also when more urban villages started to grow.
“You need real density and ridership to afford frequency, which means poor people.”
I wish I was poor enough to be able to afford to live in one of those new condo towers in Belltown.
@Lazarus. You seem to be ignoring several facts here. Link is not 100% reliable. Neither is driving. Yet people are willing to “bet their vacation” on them. You seem to think that reliability is binary (you either are or you are not). By that definition, there is no reliable way to the airport (other than maybe walking). Every mode has potential delays. Every. Single. Mode.
You just build that into your plans. If you just miss a train, is your vacation ruined? Of course not. What if there is some sort of delay, and they cancel a train? Not the end of the world. What if there is some sort of major problem, and they put everyone on shuttle buses? Even then you are probably OK, as long as it isn’t rush hour. So even with an unreliable system like Link, it still works, assuming you give enough padding.
Oh, and the New York Subway system is by far the least reliable rail system in the country. It is also the most popular. It really sucks to have a big delay, and sit there waiting for some reason, but it sure beats the hell out of driving. If you have a tight schedule, you build in extra time.
That’s just the way it is with important events. I always show up early to the airport. The greatest level of unreliability is the airport itself! The bus might be ten minutes late, but going through security can take an extra hour. Unless you like the drama, you have to allow extra time.
Unless you were dealing with an infrequent bus, your basic mistake was in assuming buses suck. This is no surprise given all of your comments here. Buses suck; buses suck; buses suck. It really should be your moniker. In this case though, there is no reason to assume that buses suck, but rather, the tool you used to monitor them. Yes, it sucks that we don’t have reliable real time monitoring of our buses and trains, but that doesn’t mean we should panic, and assume nothing is working. Check the schedule (not the real-time info). Give it a few minutes. Then, if things don’t work out, you have to go to “Plan B” (call a cab) which is fundamentally no different than taking Link. For example, if your bus is supposed to come along every ten minutes and it is already been fifteen, then it is time to call a cab. Even then, I would be tempted to give it a couple more minutes.
The same thing is true for the train. The real-time info for Link is largely non-existent. When I get to a Link Station I see nothing about the next train, and yet I just wait, figuring the real-time info mechanism is not working (instead of the trains just being cancelled). A while back I remember taking the train in the middle of the day. They were scheduled to run every ten minutes, but I had already waited twelve. I didn’t panic, and just waited. Eventually the train came, just like the bus probably would have, if you would have waited.
Of course there are exceptions (with all modes) but those are rare and there is usually very good information about them. Sound Transit will tell if you if there is a problem. The situation I mentioned (with the 73) was listed at the bus stop. That level of failure (just not running) is usually well publicized by the agency in charge.
A). When a rider is dealing with a system that is known to be unreliable (the bus), and that,
B) When the rider is looking at actual reported bus data that they know is reliable (OBA), that then,
You’ve got it backwards. The real-time data (that feeds OBA and similar apps) is way less reliable than the buses. Ridiculously so. If “OBA said the next bus was 23 minutes behind, even though they supposedly were running at 10 min headway” I would definitely question OBA. There are exceptions, of course. You haven’t explained what bus it was, or if there was some sort of event. But I’ve had OBA schedules that just don’t make sense. A 347 goes by, and then it says a 348 is supposed to be along two minutes later. They are supposed to be 15 minutes apart, but I got excited, thinking maybe I’ll get lucky. I waited and waited, until finally the 348 showed up, right on schedule.
The same thing happened with the 41, back in the day. It start only a few blocks from the bus stop, but OBA said that it would be here 15 minutes after the last bus, even though they are supposed to be running with 10 minute headways. This was before the driver shortage, mind you. But sure enough, the schedule was right, but OBA was wrong.
I’m not saying that OBA is always wrong. But when it is wrong, it is really, really wrong (around 15 minutes, sometimes worse). In this day and age (when they really do cancel buses, given the driver shortage) I get nervous. But more often than not, it is the app, not the buses.
What you are saying is that Metro is an unreliable system, that then feeds unreliable data to an unreliable app, that then feeds even more unreliable information to the end user?
And you are saying that the end user should just have faith that everything will work out, and just rely on that system anyhow?
I’m sorry, but I view “faith” as the realm of religion, and a subject that is best left to religion.
As per transit, I prefer a reliable system with data I can trust. Because if I can’t get from A to B reliably, then I will probably select a different mode.
But hey, maybe that is just me.
What you are saying is that Metro is an unreliable system, that then feeds unreliable data to an unreliable app, that then feeds even more unreliable information to the end user?
I’m saying that you are greatly exaggerating the unreliability of Metro buses, just as you often greatly exaggerate other weaknesses with the buses (it’s almost as if you are on a crusade to denigrate buses).
A bus that is a couple minutes late still counts as unreliable. But it doesn’t mean you can’t count on it. Again, the same thing happens with the trains. This is just the nature of the system. There are very few transit systems that are extremely reliable, and extremely few in this country. But there is a difference between being a couple minutes late, and 15 minutes late. For our buses and trains, the former is common. For our buses and trains, the latter is highly unusual. In both cases, there is usually something weird going on (an accident, a major event, like a protest, that sort of thing).
In contrast, the data that the buses and trains feed the various apps are flawed, and has been known to be flawed for a while now. Both the trains and the buses have trouble getting the data straight. But again, that is different. Yes, it sucks to go into a station, in the middle of the day, and have no idea when the train is coming. You have no reliable information as to when it will be here. Even the schedule if vague (“every ten minutes, but no actual station schedule”). But it isn’t the end of the world. Chances are, it will be here in ten minutes, and probably a lot sooner. The same thing is true with a bus, if it has the same headway. I think it would be great if this was fixed, but it is like the escalators. As long as it limps along, it isn’t the end of the world. For that matter, I would put data feeds below escalators (but that is just me).
Look, we’ve all done it. We’ve all waited more than ten minutes for a train or a bus, even though the headways are ten minutes. But that is extremely rare. If data says this is happening again, take it with a grain of salt. Assume that the bus or train is not late, but the data is bad. It really isn’t that hard.
Emeryville is also part of the AC Transit District. The fact that Emery-Go-Round even exists is a testament to the problems of AC Transit, who doesn’t promote feeder buses and whose labor costs are so high that it’s cheaper for Emeryville and its development subsidizers to fund this overlay service provided by a contractor rather than use AC Transit.
I do think there could be a niche market for shorter distance circulator buses here. I’ve long advocated for overlay neighborhood shuttle where fares are much cheaper or free, like the LADOT Dash buses. Of course, there is the “no private buses in transit centers” rule here that the Bay Area doesn’t have so that would need to be finessed.
Seems like UW would be a good place for a circulator, considering station locations and variety of destinations on the campus.
“there is the “no private buses in transit centers” rule”
That wouldn’t apply to routes contracted by cities and in partnership with Metro. An unsubsidized private route would have $6 fares and not accept transfers, so it wouldn’t be feasible or get many riders.
“That wouldn’t apply to routes contracted by cities and in partnership with Metro. An unsubsidized private route would have $6 fares and not accept transfers, so it wouldn’t be feasible or get many riders.”
Mike, Emery-Go-Round is funded by a TMA consisting of a PBID adopted by local property owners (mostly private employers and property owners but some City funds and approvals needed ). AC Transit is forced to accept it and AC Transit loses riders to it. So it’s a locally touchy subject as it’s a quasi-private shuttle consortium.
The costs per hour are probably about half of what AC Transit would charge to operate the same service. Plus the trips are very short. The 2022 results are in the latest TMA board packet and look to me to be less than $4 per trip (1.2m rides and $4.6m budget).
Circulators generally don’t do well. Check out this post: https://humantransit.org/2009/04/seattle-transit-blog-is-reporting-some-grief-from-the-rainier-valley-area-in-southeast-seattle-regarding-king-county-metros.html. (Hey, he is talking about us!)
I’m not sure I would even call the Emery Go-Round a classic circulator. It is free, but otherwise seems like a standard bus route (or two bus routes). They aren’t very long, but are fairly linear: https://emerygoround.com/standard-service/. The biggest influence on the routes is the city line. They extend outside it, but just barely, and not in a very good way. The same is obviously true between King and Snohomish County (even the Swift Blue extension seems nonsensical until you understand the dysfunctional relationship between Metro and Community Transit — hopefully they fix that). Anyway, I think it would be mistake to consider this some wonderful example of transit. He quotes the numbers for yearly (a dead giveaway that the number of riders are small). It is nice that it is free, but the buses only run every 15 minutes. They combine (I assume) for 7.5 minute headways, but only for a small segment.
The problem, as Al mentioned, is that AC Transit is just not very good. I wouldn’t say the problem is lack of feeders, it is just not a very good network. I would say they have two problems. One is BART. If you don’t have many stops, it is hard to make a grid. You end up sending buses out of their way to connect to the nearest station, reducing headways. The other is that there are still quite a few buses going over the Bay. To be fair, they largely just end as soon as they get there, and the trip is very fast. But still. I think you could save some money by just ending at a station (and that may be what Al is getting at when he says “feeders”). Keep in mind, 15 minute bus service doesn’t sound that good, but many of those AC Transit buses run every half hour (even in very urban areas). Maybe that’s just because of the downtown, but that is really bad, and could very well explain why Emeryville just decided to run a few free buses.
It’s a complex discussion about AC Transit and it’s service structure.
Route 72R (Rapid) runs through Emeryville’s eastern edge every 12 minutes but it’s a long route that is easily over 10 miles and takes over an hour to go just one way. That creates terrible schedule adherence.
Route F is a Transbay route circling through Emeryville in between UC Berkeley and SF. It runs only every 30 minutes usually. The route can get bogged down in traffic.
Shuttles have the advantage of better reliability than long typical routes and they can make several round trips in the time it takes a longer route to do just one. That’s powerful in attracting riders and keeping costs low. Of course, they also create the need for more double transferring so that’s a negative.
Shuttles have the advantage of better reliability than long typical routes and they can make several round trips in the time it takes a longer route to do just one. That’s powerful in attracting riders and keeping costs low.
Generally speaking it actually adds to costs. The most cost effective approach is a grid, not a hub and spoke system (with each station a hub). You definitely save money by avoiding going across the bay, but that’s not the case with buses that go out of their way to serve a station. Ideally you want a system like Vancouver’s. The buses form a grid, while also connecting to the trains along the way. Take out the trains and it is still a good network — the buses generally don’t have to detour to serve a station (nor do they just end there).
A lot of what East Bay needs is better right of way. Buses shouldn’t be stuck in traffic. Same with San Fransisco. More right-of-way and a better network would lead to much better service. Like Seattle, those areas are getting better, but not as fast as they should.
“The majority of people using public transportation take two trips per day (one to a destination in the morning and one home in late afternoon or evening). A small portion, perhaps 5%, makes only one trip. Larger portions take more than four trips per day. At most agencies (10% to 30%) of riders transfer to a second transit vehicle to reach their final destination.”
I meant to say that for discretionary riders I think transferring to a bus after Link to reach one’s ultimate destination on the outward bound trip will be very unpopular. Going home probably more will take a feeder bus home after getting off Link, because on the outward-bound trip Link took them to the ultimate destination. I don’t think Northgate is very many rider’s ultimate destination, or they are transferring from Link after Northgate to a bus to get to their ultimate destination unless coming home, which likely means three seats. In many cases it will have to do with the cost of parking at the ultimate destination, and how valuable one’s time is.
For those who cannot afford to park at their ultimate destination, or cannot afford a car, then they will have to transfer as many times as it takes.
Choice riders, like healthcare workers from MI, or from the Kenmore area, or from Issaquah taking the 554 to Bellevue, will probably balk at a transfer after Link. I would very surprised if eastsiders take a feeder bus to Link rather than drive to a park and ride that serves Link, or take Link to Seattle and then transfer to a bus to get to their ultimate destination, although so far the only evidence is the 630. In the past, with ST buses, downtown was the ultimate destination, except in some cases SLU which caused a lot of complaints. Of course, ridership on those buses is very low right now despite they are for many one seat buses to their ultimate destination in downtown Seattle, and I doubt Link will change that. For some reason eastsiders don’t really count driving to a park and ride to catch transit a seat or transfer, but adding a bus to a station serving East Link is like adding three seats.
Of course, my main point was I don’t think TOD will manufacture the ridership ST estimated and is assumed in Link’s 40% farebox recovery goal. In fact, just lack of fare payment will exceed any farebox recovery TOD manufactures.
Bus route design can’t be too generic. In the case of the East Bay, there are usually about 3 miles or less between the Bay and 1000+ foot hills with restricted street access. That’s different than in North Seattle where there is a greater distance between the water bodies. Plus, SF demand is still a strong pull. So the service layouts respond to that.
As far as shuttles go, a higher speed rail network seems to be fundamental to a broad shuttle program. A shuttle in Shoreline makes little sense without Link, which is what a bus grid would offer. So why it may not make much sense now, I fully expect the concept to become more popular as the Link projects finally open to destinations far away from a dense Seattle grid. Newcastle and Lynnwood and Federal Way aren’t set up well for decent frequency bus grids. Judkins Park is the only new rail station within three miles of Downtown Seattle until DSTT2 to Ballard opens post 2037.
The other AC Trsnsit issue is that the SF Salesforce Transit Center is just a point that is still several hundred feet from BART and Muni light rail. Transbay routes are nice to have and the most frequent ones serve non- BART areas even though they may pass by an East Bay BART station. Finally, BART did have some overcrowding pre-Covid and they do get service disruptions that can delay riders for at least an hour. Having the safety valve of Transbay buses is useful.
A shuttle is for the last one or two miles. If a longer bus route can fully serve it, great. If not, people need a shuttle or it’s a deterrent to taking transit. Also, a shuttle can serve an area with a rectangle or circle, which is what some neighborhoods or small cities need. The Emeryville shuttle may need to go in a rectangle to serve the entire core area. It works if the area is not too small and not too big.
For instance, most of of Issaquah is pretty small and you can’t go very far in a straight line without hitting an edge, but it’s too 2-dimensional for a single straight route to serve everything perpendicular to the route. Multiple short parallel routes may not be efficient. People need to get between all of the Highlands, city center, the high school area, the northwest growth center, and the western shops and offices. All of that is around three miles across, so a frequent circulating route might work. If you leave entire districts without transit because they can’t be on one or two straight routes, you haven’t solved the last-mile problem and the city’s ridership will be low.
Another possibility might be, if the 50 didn’t exist, a C-shaped route from Othello to Seward Park and Columbia City. That may be a little long to be called a shuttle, but if Othello Street and Columbia City/Genesee Street were a bit closer together so it didn’t take so long to go between them, it would be a more typical shuttle area.
Ballard also has a natural C-shaped corridor on Market Street, 24th and 85th. It wouldn’t make sense on top of the current routes or with the need for longer routes to the large U-District, but in another district of similar size with one Ballard station it might be worthwhile.
“The most cost effective approach is a grid, not a hub and spoke system”
Emeryville is a small city next to the Bay. You can’t go far on a grid without running into the water or city boundary. Its main transit need is from MacArthur BART to the city center, which is what the Emery Go-Round does. After that it doesn’t really matter much where the route goes because it’s a small area. I don’t care whether it’s run by AC Transit or is a bus or van or is called a shuttle or is grid-correct, just that it exists and is frequent.
Since The Urbanist no longer allows comments…
This reminds me of the article posted a while ago about a similar development in LA, and how it made for some strange bedfellows in that the local community was against adding housing stock, even though housing is sorely needed there, too. We now see a similar pattern here. It also aligns with some of what I see as the core of what DT and others are suggesting at least some of the time – increase housing in the central areas of the major cities, to the extent zoning allows now, and potentially reduce the allowed housing in the outskirts further – compensating for this by increasing the allowed housing in the central areas further instead.
A single-family cluster in a greenfield area in the outskirts is sprawl. If it had integrated retail and some mixed-in multifamily and a transit plan, then it would be better. Although even those would be better as infill or at the edge of the built-up area, not with a couple miles of natural land all around it.
Tract houses a couple miles from the built-up area is not “country living”, is not rural, is not bucolic, and is not environmentally friendly or sustainable. Since we have zoning a good question is, “Why is this area zoned single-family?” That implies the city wants houses there.
Well, look at it this way. For every “urbanist” who opposes this development there are 3 families ready to buy a single family home built there, cash in hand. Everybody has got to live somewhere…. and the smart money is always a single family home without any HOA fees. It’s just straight supply and demand.
Zoning fallows money…. money doesn’t fallow zoning.
I believe that SFH zoning (R1 for most places) will give way in greater Seattle… not because of urbanists or density…. but solely because it’s possible to knock down a single home in one of Seattle’s cheaper neighborhoods and build a 4-6 unit building and make a big profit. Won’t make housing less expensive and I doubt it even does much for raising the density, but it put 700k condos on the market.
I swear the whole Urbanist crew should just move to some Rust Belt town and start over. Seattle’s too rich for their “new urbanist” ideas…. The City is full of really smart young folks who have vision, but it’s nothing but a huge struggle in Seattle…. and they’ll lose anyhow. The Emerald City is owned by Tech Bros… try Indiana next.
35 units won’t make a dent in the overall house demand, when tens of thousands of people are looking or would look. Any new development would have a HOA and fees. I’m assuming this is a tract development: the developer will build 35 houses and a homeowners’ association for them. To get a non-HOA house you’d have to buy one that was built individually decades ago, or an empty rural lot — and that means Vashon Island or Bainbridge Island or Mt Vernon where most houses and lots are individually built, not southern Bellevue.
I am not sure why HOAs matter in this context. Yes, some people are not fond of them, but empirical evidence suggests that plenty of people are okay enough with them to live in HOA homes. So I am not sure why the smart money is on “no HOA homes” but also not sure why 35 homes shouldn’t be built. By that logic, no small development should ever be built. Certainly not any single 4-6 unit development on what used to be a SFH home, if the zoning rules change – those 4-6 units would be an eighth of the drop that 35 homes would be.
If the logic is that they shouldn’t be built there, that’s fine, I buy that. So let’s tighten, not loosen, the zoning requirements, so that all development happens only in the city of Seattle (and perhaps downtown Bellevue and a few other places like that). We can’t have it both ways.
Most SFH are not part of a HOA.
I had a vacation house in Phoenix that was part of a HOA. Much more prevalent there than here. I liked it. The fees were reasonable and the association took care of the landscaping, community pool and hot tub, roads, and made sure folks followed the rules.
I now have a house on Whidbey that is part of a HOA. There are no fees but there are restrictive covenants that prevent someone from building a McMansion under the county’s lax building code.
When it comes to HOA’s with multi-family housing the issue is the fees, which can rise including assessments, and in newer buildings are often more than $1000/mo. Which makes affordable housing set asides pointless because lower income people can’t even afford the HOA fees which build no equity.
Most folks buying one of the 35 homes will be couples with kids so households will be between 3 to 4, equal to 100 studios with one person.
One would think that the builder could make more building townhouses or four plexes but we have learned on MI that isn’t always true. On MI there is a code provision allowing a builder to subdivide with smaller lots than required in the zone but smaller houses ( house to lot area ratios) with some green space but no builder has ever applied to do it. They don’t even build a DADU that is allowed. They prefer the standard lot which on MI is 8400 to 15,000 sf with the largest house as possible under the code (40% of lot area).
As Tacomee notes, in areas that are safe and have good schools the SFH is preferred by builders because most buyers want a high end build, there is virtually no risk, and the profit per sf is the best. You would need two to three times the sf if building affordable townhouses or four plexes to get the same profit.
Converting a SFH to four plexes works better in areas like SE Seattle and I would expect to see that area gentrified with new multi-family housing which has been the development trend moving south in Seattle. The poor get displaced even though more housing “units” are created, but the neighborhood gentrifies and often attracts more retail with less crime.
Many don’t understand that the average cost of housing in Seattle goes up for two reasons: 1. New construction; 2. that replaces older and more affordable housing. The bigger issue when it comes to affordable housing is the latter, but in a city like Seattle with a high AMI over time affordable housing disappears although total housing increases.
You never want to live in a city if your income is below the AMI, which for Seattle is now $115,000.
Well, look at it this way. For every “urbanist” who opposes this development there are 3 families ready to buy a single family home built there, cash in hand.
Sure, but that doesn’t mean it is good for society. You are no doubt familiar with the tragedy of the commons.
Everybody has got to live somewhere…. and the smart money is always a single family home without any HOA fees.
Right. Because there has never been a housing crash, ever.
It’s just straight supply and demand.
Nonsense. It is a highly regulated market that limits the supply, and acts like a cartel. It is clear that people, given the chance, will live in smaller places. If we removed all zoning you would definitely have sprawl, but you would also have a ton of new apartments all over neighborhoods like Magnolia and West Seattle (place where apartment are only allowed on tiny bits of land). The fact that Seattle has built so many apartments given the extremely restrictive nature of housing just shows that. When they build an apartment, there is nothing stopping them from building a house. When they build a bunch of townhouses (which don’t have an HOA, by the way) there is nothing stopping them from having a much bigger lot, and fewer houses. People are building to the maximum density allowed. The demand is there for more dense housing, but the supply is limited because of antiquated, historically racist laws that hurt the poor.
There have been recent rebuttals to the so-called “tragedy of the commons”, one of the most in-depth I have read in non-scientific media is this:
The views of the author seem very much in line, to me, with beliefs held by urbanists, so I am surprised that you bring up this particular issue. If you haven’t read the article and do get a chance to do so (or if you’ve already read it, of course!) I’d be curious to get your take on it.
Ross, when you write that it is clear that given a chance people prefer a smaller place to live that is contrary to my experience.
I spent four years fighting to rewrite the residential development code on MI that the prior council — later thrown out of office and hounded off the Island — had manipulated in secret to return the McMansion, which is just house to lot area ratio, and to some extent yard setbacks and impervious surface limits.
Builders pushing the upzoning bills don’t want smaller houses; they want smaller lots but bigger house to lot area ratios.
My experience is that builders and property owners want the biggest house possible, or they can afford. Why would someone prefer a smaller living space, especially if they are raising a family. If folks wanted smaller lots and smaller houses we would have them (and we do except their values are much smaller).
The upzoning bills will have a much bigger impact in poorer neighborhoods than in expensive Eastside SFH neighborhoods because upzoning depends on gentrification to make sense.
Take a SFH in S. Seattle housing several generations, evict them, demolish the SFH, build four or six brand new higher end condos, and sell them to single white tech progressives who are willing to live without a car a la The Central District.
That really doesn’t pencil out on expensive SFH’s on the Eastside with an older but million dollar valued house on the lot, or folks raising a family. Those builders will replace an older SFH with a much more expensive SFH per sf because the profit is so great per sf if public safety and the local schools support it.
Gentrification is good for a city: construction sales tax revenue, new construction is exempt from the 1% property tax levy cap, less crime, fewer poor people, better neighborhood retail.
If one accepts the Machiavellian reality that poor people have no place in a city or region with a very high AMI then upzoning, new construction of all sizes, and gentrification are not just good policy but the market reality. The reality is if the AMI is $115,000 then the half earning less than $115,000 are screwed and new construction isn’t going to save them.
“The Tragedy of the Commons” remains true even in that article.
In the cited cases the resource uses are controlled by cooperative group. If you believe that such a thing as democracy exists, then you also believe that such a democracy is a cooperative group. Either way, these are governing bodies set up to prevent overuse.
At least, I don’t see much difference between a cooperative group of Swiss cattle herders creating a governing body to prevent overuse and a group of citizens creating a city to manage limited resources within its boundaries.
By the way, MI, Bellevue and the Eastside have zillions of smaller multi-family units. The older ones start at $1 million north of I-90 and the new ones closer to $2 million for a two bedroom.
Some incredible units are in a “middle housing” sized complex at the west end of Old Main St. I was interested in — much smaller than my SFH — but they started at $4 million and my wife loves her house.
A classic mistake some make is thinking the GFA of any housing unit is the primary factor determining cost. It is often one of the least important factor. The newness of the construction, and location are much more important.
The tragedy of the commons neglects the fact money came move. Right now this nation is experiencing a huge migration from north to south.
Tomorrow’s Times has an article from Westneat titled “Downtown Seattle Is Not Coming Back”. No shit, Sherlock. But does anyone understand how seismic this change is when just five years ago Seattle was considered one of the rising superstar cities (and so was Portland).
This is a death knell for Urbanism is this region. The upzoning bills before the legislature are a repudiation of the PSRC’s TOD vision and a complete switch to sub-urbanism and an embrace of car culture. .
Builders and realtors haven virtually no morality but like pigs chasing truffles they can sniff out where the money is, and that is suburbia because someone killed Seattle.
The poor and homeless will continue to congeal in downtown Seattle but the tax revenue will have moved east. The question is to what extent east King Co. will allow the KC Board to pay for Seattle’s tragic mistakes.
I think Daniel and tacomee know what they’re talking about, so I would suggest that Seattle modify it’s development regulations to state that any “tear-down” must be undertaken by someone who will agree to own the new structure for ten years and that the construction of the new structure must be completed by “worker collectives” in which the maximum compensation differential between the lowest- and highest-paid members of the collective is 300%.
This would make Daniel’s stipulation that “Builders” [hooray-hooray!!!] are the only people skilled enough to remake a city moot.
“The tragedy of the commons neglects the fact money came move. ”
That’s actually what the Tragedy of the Commons is all about. Resources are used until they are gone, and then everyone moves on to destroy some other place. Except, for resources like water, air and land, a number of resources are connected so that the trend is towards degradation.
Don’t urbanists want to turn much of Jackson Park into a giant 35,000 resident apartment complex? And don’t urbanists want to turn the Cross Kirkland Corridor, which is a wildlife habitat, into a railway?
I do wish those who throw around the term “urbanist” around and accuse those of us here of being one would define what they mean.
Shoreline is very much suburban.
Jackson Park might have been someone’s idea of a good housing location at some point, but there are 3 busy street crossings you’d have to make to get from there to the actual Link station. Overall walk times would probably be better if any added development were closer to 155th. Physically it’s farther but the dangerous nature of those types of areas and how long the light cycles are, overall walk time is probably better further north,
But yes, it really makes sense to put stuff people travel to near transit stations. This makes sense if they are urban or suburban locations.
“…And don’t urbanists want to turn the Cross Kirkland Corridor, which is a wildlife habitat, into a railway?”
No, just suburban gearheads like me.
A wildlife habitat? Really, Sam?
Since I’ve had to dodge dear prancing across the road in my early morning/late evening commute, does that make asphalt a wildlife habitat?
Glenn, I think the two problems with defining an urbanist in this region are:
1. There is no real urbanism. Downtown Seattle is dead and Westneat writes today it isn’t coming back. Like many cities Seattle lost work commuters, but the real problem is it didn’t have the vibrant urbanism to attract non work commuters despite the regional wealth (which is the issue with Tacoma and Everett: too little wealth for real urbanism).
Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue and areas in between are considered suburbanism everywhere else in the world. A four plex in a remote SFH with no retail is not urbanism anywhere except here.
Urbanism requires true density, especially retail density. Much of the” in between” in a 6500 Sq mile three county area would be considered rural in the rest of the world.
So we better figure out who screwed up downtown Seattle (urbanist or progressive, although most just leave rather than worry about The Who) and how if it is ever going to be fixed. Because the urbanists in this region look pretty damn foolish to the rest of us demanding four plexes in Auburn while downtown Seattle is dead.
2. The main organizations claiming to be urbanists like The Urbanist, Transit Riders Union, Seattle Subway and STB are more about class warfare than true urbanism, which is a land use and retail construct. Urbanism requires wealth to thrive because stores and restaurants are expensive to run.
That definition of class urbanism — class warfare — is what others object to, especially when these “urbanists” have failed so miserably in creating urbanism and have driven shoppers and diners to enclaves like U Village and Bellevue, so we never get to the real nut of urbanism: how to get a LOT of people to go to the one area that has any hope of urbanism — and was a rising star 10 years ago — downtown Seattle to live, shop, dine, walk around. Like other great cities. We know it can be done because other cities with much less wealth can do it.
So those of us who are not class warfare urbanists, but like a vibrant urban city when we travel, and don’t see urbanism as class warfare, and like places like U Village and Bellevue Square/Lincoln Square, see the mess “urbanists” have made of Seattle coming to suburbia to ruin it too with their class envy.
. These are not urbanists wanting to build something up but instead to tear things down because they can’t afford them.
What in hell does a real “urbanist” care about East King Co. when downtown Seattle is the only place in the region that can ever support and sustain true urbanism? Because it has nothing to do with urbanism, which MUST begin with safe streets, and everything to do with class warfare as though upzoning SFH zones means Doug Trumm will ever be able to afford to live in Wallingford, which ironically as an historical neighborhood may be exempt from upzoning.
If someone wants to talk about building the walls of the swimming pool (zoning) and TOD where folks actually want to live, and making downtown safe and clean so it can truly revitalize and lure back folks with money to shop and dine I am all ears, even if Westneat thinks it is too late.
But if urbanism means I hate cars and parking although that is how 90% of shoppers and diners get somewhere (and 5% by Uber) and I hate SFH so let’s disperse population, housing and the limited retail throughout 6500 sq miles even though the new construction will never be affordable , most of us don’t want to waste or time on the anger crusade that will never create real urbanism or revitalize downtown.
So maybe this blog and region should not use the term “urbanist” because there is no urbanism because the urbanists killed it in the one place it can thrive while pursuing four plexes in East King Co.
Jim, these Environmentally Sensitive Area signs are posted all along the Cross Kirkland Corridor. There’s some cattail grass, a frog, and a heron on the sign.
Greenwashing at its best
“But if urbanism means I hate cars and parking although that is how 90% of shoppers and diners get somewhere…”
I’ve been around the automotive industry for years, and I still turn a wrench on my own vehicles. I can keep 2 cars for what most people pay to keep 1.
I enjoy the things that automotive travel has to offer, but Jeez, the damn things aren’t screwed to my ass.
I’ll say it over and over again,
All car drivers have to do is pay DIRECTLY for the infrastructure they demand. Don’t tax me for a mega-project that you want on the Eastside.
That gas tax is a ‘user fee’ is a myth.
Toll the damn roads so that they actually pay for themselves and you will quickly see how the development patterns change.
Car drivers are getting a free ride, because the funding sources and distribution of that funding is so vague, that we’re all getting our pockets picked to satisfy a political agenda.
The term “urbanist” is derived from “urbaniste” which is the French word for city planner. Note that a city planner is more about rationality regardless of density. For example, low density areas get less frequent transit and high density areas get wider sidewalks.
But in Seattle and in modern culture, the Urbanist has turned the idea of rationality on its head. That’s thanks to the online publication of the same name. It is portrayed as some sort of vague prototype of a lifestyle.
It has become increasingly undefinable, much like the terms “sustainable” or “equitable” or even “conservative”.
So rather than call people urbanists (which seems to mean different things to different people), let’s just use the term to define the web source, ok?
“Car drivers are getting a free ride, because the funding sources and distribution of that funding is so vague, that we’re all getting our pockets picked to satisfy a political agenda.”
Jim: agreed. I don’t think people realize how much subsidy the road system gets. This is particularly the case in places such as Seattle and Bellevue, where a fair amount of the local road budget comes from property taxes. It means city infrastructure will always be at a disadvantage, as those from smaller cities only pay for the infrastructure they mostly use, while property tax payers in the larger city wind up paying for infrastructure required for both themselves and those that come from outside the city.
You have raised that idea before Jim: a pure use tax. I must admit it has an ideological purity that is interesting.
No more public schools, or at least each parent pays the $18,175/year the state spends on h just general education. Transit is 100% farebox recovery for both capital and O&M including the use of roads (let alone dedicated lanes) and freeway ROW’s, which includes underground.
Deliveries, freight, the post office would all pay a use tax that would be passed onto the customer. Same with fire, police and EMT’s. And all those trucks and workers building Link.
The homeless would subsidize their own housing. Food stamps would be abolished. There would be a fee to use public spaces like parks. You could even charge to use a sidewalk that are very expensive to build and maintain.
I suppose you could claim Social Security — at least your contributions with the average S&P return over that time — is your money, but certainly not Medicare.
I am not sure the rest of America, especially the poor, is ready to go there, and this country has spent 220 years going away from a pure use tax, (although it sounds like Sen. Scott is willing to go back). Some like me would save a bundle if I only had to pay for what my family uses. I pay taxes on four cars and hardly drive.
Too bad there isn’t an app to calculate your likely total user tax to compare with all the state, local, county and federal taxes a taxpayer pays today.
Do you think a pure use tax would benefit the wealthy or poor more?
Or Glenn, people stop coming to the “big city” at all, let alone in a car, and your entire downtown becomes a big dead zone while suburban retail is humming along, and all those business taxes including B&O, commercial property taxes, sales taxes including new commercial development, parking taxes, and employee head taxes including employer paid ORCA cards goes away and the Seattle City Ciuncil needs to cut about $300 million in expenditures in 2023.
Seattle — or at least the progressives — is the only city I know that tells businesses and citizens to take their money and get out of town. What really shocked Seattle, and its council however, is WFH showed them those commuters didn’t. want to be in Seattle anyway.
So everyone got what they want, and Seattle taxpayers can pay for 100% of their roads and have exclusive use of them. Unless the council is going to ressurect its idea to charge a congestion tax on drivers who are no longer there.
Seattle progressives just don’t understand urbanism. The ENTIRE point of a vibrant downtown is to get other people to pay for it because they want to use it. Now all that tax money is going to all Eastside cities and their roads. No complaints here.
Wikipedia has a rundown on the idea of “New Urbanism” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Urbanism). Overall, I would say I agree with the principles. But it is like anything else, these are just principles. How that actually gets implement in real life is where it matters. Life is full of nuance — ignoring them is a bad idea.
I prefer looking at models anyway. For example, I would say that Scandinavia is the best model for most elements of government. Police, elections, social services, union participation, wealth, income, just about everything. I think the Dutch do a very good job in terms of bike infrastructure, transit and roads. Within the Netherlands, Amsterdam is better than Rotterdam in that regard (Amsterdam dodged a bullet, as it turns out). For housing affordability, I put Germany and Japan above the others. For building high speed rail, the French and the Japanese. For building expensive subways, I would say southern Europe and South Korea although all of Europe is much cheaper than Canada, which is much better than the United States. For health care I don’t have a favorite — I just put the U. S. last. But that is as much about implementation than the model (the Swiss have a similar system, but they are much better at it).
There are very few things we do especially well in this country. Education and the military (and the latter mainly because we spend so much money on it). We lead the world in software, but interestingly enough you can credit the military and our education system for that too (along with inertia). Anyway, the point is, pointing to another city (say Vancouver, BC) and saying “they do transit better that us and here is why” is much easier to understand than coming up with a label and then trying to apply it in every case.
Mike O, question for you. Since you walk the talk of a being a true urbanist … lives in a very dense, urban area, relies almost exclusively on public transit to get around, etc., you’d be a good person to ask the following. What are the downsides of living where you live? We always hear about the benefits of density, especially in theory, but what, for you, are the biggest negatives of living in a very dense neighborhood?
There’s an upper limit to the density I’d like to live in. Downtown Seattle has “too much concrete”, and the oldest part of Pioneer Square (5-story?) has too many bricks. I prefer a neighborhood like the U-District or southwest Capitol Hill or maybe Ballard. It’s multifamily with some 7-story buildings and mixed retail, but has a bit more space and greenery than downtown or that part of Pioneer Square.
I once knew a couple who lived in a First Hill highrise. They loved it because they were from New York and it felt like that. I’ve never lived in a highrise so I don’t know how I’d feel about it, but my first choice is a neighborhood like the U-District or Capitol Hill.
Not having a car puts some limitations on where I can live and work and recreate. I grew up in a single-family neighborhood in eastern Bellevue with parents who drove everywhere and shopped at Bellevue Square and Fred Meyer. When I moved to the U-District I wondered how I’d get by without those things. But after a year of adjustment I found everything I needed was in the District. I only went to Northgate once or twice a year for things like clothes or towels. In the 80s and 90s the best jobs were in suburban office parks, and I resisted that. I managed to find jobs in Seattle whenever I needed them. In the mid 2000s it became much easier as so many companies located in Seattle. I also attend wrestling and MMA tournaments, and they’re all in the suburbs. I have to go to Edmonds College Saturday evening, and either take the last bus back at 10:30om in the middle of the event, or walk an hour to Aurora Village. Others are in Arlington, Everett, Highline College, the Kent Showare Center, or the Tacoma casinos, and those have the same problem. We drove up to some in Arlington. My roommate had a van but when it started needing a lot of repairs, I convinced him to get rid of it and just take transit, and he’s been doing fine and likes it. (That got rid of a $250/month parking space.) He took the 150 to northern Kent for night and swing shifts for several years, and that was fine. I take transit to Costco two or three times a month, and either take the 131/132, or Link to SODO and walk 20 minutes from there. Naturally I can’t buy more than I can carry, but it works for half my groceries and small home things.
Some people have problems with noise, but my apartment is well insulated, so I don’t hear it even though the bars and clubs are a block away. The most I hear is people walking through the alley drunk and shouting on some Saturday nights.
There’s the low-level problem of people sleeping on sidewalks and panhandlers, but that’s more of an annoyance than an acute issue.
Crime hasn’t been a problem. I’ve been almost assaulted twice, but the first was forty years ago and the second twenty years ago. I’ve felt two cities to be menacing — Moscow and London — but not Seattle or New York or LA. I’ve had two break-ins, but again they were twenty years ago and not in this neighborhood, and the first one my roommate thought it was people he knew who were targeting him. Last year there was somebody who broke into my building and stole some packages in the mail room, and that really angered me. That was the worst. But Bellevue also has a lot of break-ins, especially in cars during Christmastime.
My biggest complaint is that transit isn’t as frequent, fast, or reliable as it could be. A Link station at Pine & Bellevue would be perfect for me. The 10/11/49 could be timed for combined 5-minute headways but aren’t. In the evening they all leave downtown at the same time. Westbound Sundays they also come rather close together. But I’m so glad I’m not on a single 30-minute or 60-minute route. I grew up on 60-minute routes.
Paris is exceptionally dense, but does so almost entirely with buildings in the 5-8 floor range.
Outside downtown Portland, one of the densest areas is the central Eastside between Hawthorne and Belmont. Most of that is a mixture of single family, small apartments, larger homes converted to duplex/triplex/+, and a scattered few huge new buildings that may dominate the landscape but really don’t move the needle much because there are so few of them.
It seems to me this latter type of development is far more palatable for most Seattle neighborhoods than, say, Ballard Condos, because the overall appearance of the neighborhood doesn’t change much.
Sam, how is Kirkland doing?
Kirkland is good. Lots of development going on in downtown Kirkland. Transit ridership in my neighborhood hasn’t even begun to recover. Not that it was ever that great. I rarely see anyone waiting for the route 250 anymore, my neighborhood’s only bus route. And I live in a predominantly multifamily neighborhood!
The nearest grocery store to me is the Houghton Met Market. Across the street from them there used to be a PCC, but they moved to downtown Kirkland, and the City of Kirkland bought the old PCC lot and wants there to be affordable housing there.
The 250 does get ridden, just not at Houghton. Between Bellevue Transit Center and Kirkland Transit Center, most riders are riding all the way, with very few boardings at intermediate stops. The section between Kirkland and Redmond gets riders too, and somewhat surprisingly, people do actually get on and off the bus along 85th St. in Rose Hill.
So, don’t call the entire route a failure just because hardly anybody is using the stop nearest you.
Quoting myself … “Transit ridership in my neighborhood hasn’t even begun to recover. Not that it was ever that great. I rarely see anyone waiting for the route 250 anymore, my neighborhood’s only bus route. And I live in a predominantly multifamily neighborhood!”
Asdf, I was clearly describing transit ridership in my neighborhood. It’s only in your imagination that was saying that the entire route is a failure. “But, Sam, the 250 goes through Rose Hill! It goes down Avondale! It goes to the Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland Transit Centers! Why didn’t you talk about ridership in those neighborhoods?!?” Because I don’t live in those places. I was describing ridership in my neighborhood.
The 250 has been empty the few times I’ve ridden it from Bellevue TC to 116th, with zero or one other people. The 226 follows the same path and turns east, and it has five or six people on it. Asdf2 earlier said the 250’s Kirkland-Redmond segment gets more riders than the Kirkland-Bellevue segment. I haven’t ridden it that far so I can’t say. I’m surprised so few people ride between Bellevue and Kirkland.
I used to ride the precursors to the 250 (whatever they were called) prior to the pandemic, for some appointments at places along 116th and Northup Way. I don’t remember it ever being empty – it often had a good half-dozen to close to a dozen people on. And there were definitely people getting off (and on) along 116th, too. If it is entirely empty now, that is pretty unfortunate.
The current version of Route 250 was implemented in March 2020; note that are two tails in Redmond, Avondale and Bear Creek. Route 250 absorbed Route 248 that had connected KTC and Avondale via Redmond. Between fall 2011 and March 2020, routes 234 and 235 provided the 15/15 headway connection between the Kirkland and Bellevue transit center via the hospital district. Before fall 2011, it was routes 230 and 234. The old version of Route 250 was deleted in fall 2014; it was one-way peak-only between Overlake and downtown Seattle via SR-520.
“The current version of Route 250 was implemented in March 2020”
The original plan for RapidRide K was Bellevue-Kirkland-Redmond. The 250 was created to prefigure it and prebuild ridership.
Later Kirkland argued that RapidRide K should go north to Totem Lake instead of east to Redmond. This may have been after the 250’s planning started but before its opening. Kirkland wanted Totem Lake to support its new Urban Growth Center. The county was convinced and changed it. Somehow everybody ignored that this would cut off Redmond, a larger center. (Redmond: “What am I, chopped liver?”)
On the other hand, the turn did seem a bit arbitrary, and I doubt many people on Lake Washington Blvd are going to NE 85th Street or vice-versa. So straightening out the route made some sense, and Kirkland-Redmond could be on another RapidRide.
RapidRide K will continue south of Bellevue TC on 112th to Eastgate. I’m not sure about Factoria. It was mothballed due to lack of funding. I think it’s been restarted, and will be built whenever Metro has revenue for it.
We should build the Central City Connector and abandon the second downtown tunnel. Then add Link spurs from Westlake Station to Seattle Center and eventually Ballard. This is a much cheaper and faster solution.
Um, exactly how do you propose to “add [a] Link spur from Westlake to Seattle Center and eventually Ballard”?
While the benefits of having all north-south lines in a single tunnel are large, there are some unavoidable and potentially quite expensive difficulties that would be encountered in branching such a spur with revenue service.
It’s relatively simple to add a “stub” north of Westlake connected to the larger system for non-revenue access at Third and Pine, especially if shorter automated trains are used for that service. I’ve detailed how to do it several times.
However, there is nowhere between the block just north of the existing CID station and the curve into the TBM vault just east of The Paramount where the northbound trackway in the existing tunnel could be branched to the right without running into a forest of building foundations. Nowhere.
If the City and DSA can be convinced to accept a three-to-five year disruption of Third Avenue between Union and Pine, it might be (probably is?) possible to left-branch and dive under the southbound track at the Third and Pine curve depending on the placement of the pilings supporting the Westlake station box there.
It would require creating a large vault just north of University-Seneca Street Station encompassing the northbound tube and the space between the north- and south-bound tubes. The “floor” between the tubes would be a steep ramp down for the new branch track starting a few dozen yards north of the south wall. The floor under the northbound tube would have to have structures to support the tube.
Once that vault had been excavated and fully boxed the compression rings on the northbound tube would be 3/4 disassembled from the top segment down on both sides between the south wall and far enough that a train taking the diverging path would clear the remaining rings of the line to the north.
Then, in that newly widened space the left-hand turnout for the Ballard trains would be constructed, following the diving ramp down to pass under the southbound track at the Pine Street curve.
The southbound track would simply be punched through the north side vault wall at Third and Pine and junctioned with the existing track at the tube mouth.
The “stacked” two-level trackway north would either turn into the Stewart right of way a block north of the curve and transition to Westlake at another oblique intersection to follow existing plans or skip SLU and instead serve Belltown on its way to LQA station. If the former, a stacked station with platforms on the south side of the trackway under Stewart between Fourth and Westlake would link to the existing Westlake Station for better access to the retail core. If Belltyown is chosen for cost purposes, the station would be immediately north of Pine under Third.
In either case, I would add a center platform at USSS to optimize transfers between the U-District line and the new line to the northwest, with care taken for emergency egress, but no “daily use” connection to the mezzanines.
This would be exquisitely constrained, nosebleed expensive construction like that in London, Tokyo and New York, but it’s worth it for the avoidance of the even greater costs and terrible transfers of ST’s current plans.
If it is determined that the grade down north of USSS would be too steep but that otherwise interlining would work, it’s possible to create the northbound junction using the “breakdown lane” in the middle of the station for the turnout and begin the dive immediately north of the station box.
This does not eliminate the need for the vault!, but it does shrink it significantly in length to the north. Because the tube walls are non-trivial, the tube rings are too close together to allow even a non-tube tunnel large enough for an LR train to be attached there. The tube rings on the northbound side would still have to be dismantled for some distance north of USSS as described above. It would not be as far, though, because it would not include the length of the turnout [“switch”].
This option deprives the new line users access to USSS, but it’s not that far to the “New Westlake” station in either configuration. It also moves the option for a center-platform “reversing transfer” all the way south to Pioneer Square.
There is no other practical way to “interline” Ballard service in the existing tunnel except the single-station “dogbone” proposal Jonathan Dubman made a year ago. It has the problem that it serves only a single DSTT station, but is very inexpensive to build, if a bit confusing for riders.
Alternatively, just do the 1st Ave Streetcar from Seattle Center through Belltown all the way to CID. Might be slow as hell but would definitely open up Belltown and LQA and will have a ton of ridership. Beats currently taking a bus through the dystopia of 3rd Ave. And create a spur with the SLU line somewhere around Virginia and 1st.
Beats waiting for the vaporware that is ST3 and will be several billion dollars cheaper. Ridership experience might actually be better without the deep tunnels.
I think this is a pretty good idea. Belltown definitely could benefit from it, and it would make the line more useful than simply just “we want to connect these two lines together.”
“C) The user should just bet their vacation on the assumption that unreliable system is in fact reliable, while the actual reported data is in fact unreliable?”
The software that drives this stuff is terrible. As best as I can tell, it looks at where the next scheduled service is located, and displays estimated arrival based on scheduled times.
Most of the time, this might work ok. If these is a severe disruption it means it goes wildly wrong because it only sees the next scheduled service, not the closest one. Eg, I was on a MAX platform and there had been some disruption or other, but service had been restored. Next arrivals was telling me the next train wasn’t for an hour and a half, and the map showed the train it was seeing as being a train headed the opposite direction. Meanwhile, the train I needed had just become visible.
Is anyone aware of any North American city that uses software for this that actually works, even in disruptions? It doesn’t seem like it would be so difficult to check the line instead of the schedule to find the nearest, rather than nearest scheduled, service.
Soon after my experience, TriMet changed its web site so the opening page is a map of all the buses and trains so everyone can see where everything is. It is one solution I suppose, but a functioning arrival time system would be really nice.
I’ve taken plenty of shots at Sound Transit here….. and a few at “New Urbanism”, but I haven’t really explained in a nuts and bolts way what the real problem is. So without further ado…..
I’m very pro-transit and pro-poor person. I want transit agencies to help those people are actually using transit in the here and now. I think local bus systems, Metro and Pierce Transit, fail to do so. If a town’s local bus system isn’t good, why on earth spend huge money on trains? Because buses are Black and trains are White. Sound Transit is for the upper classes, not poor people. The $#^%&* Sound Transit board has its panties in bunch about poor people fare jumping….. on train rides they can’t afford. The whole idea of a 40% fare box recovery for operational expenses is racist and classist to the core. Transit is for poor people…they can’t pay shit. Giving them free passes (a good idea) doesn’t help the crap idea of 40% recovery one bit. Why not be honest about being classist and racist and blow the whole damn thing up?
Then there’s TOD….. transit oriented development. After spending billions on transit, now urbanists want subsidized housing near transit….. this would be a reasonable idea if idea if most of that housing was actually for poor people, but it’s not. Most of it is for college educated urbanists who are pissed off they can’t afford a house in Seattle. Market rate housing needs to be market rate housing… not some public/private money boondoggle.
And I-135 is an even bigger self serving shit show. White collar public unions (teachers and office workers) are supporting I-135 because they believe they can get control of public housing for their workers. We’re looking at using tax payer money for housing for college graduates. Once the teacher’s unions get ahold of housing, they’ll drain every dollar for teachers. It’s all politics here, not anything about need. Fuck any blue collar folks, poor folks… they can wait in line for decades for the “other” public housing system. It’s bullshit and deep down the crew here and at the Urbanist know that. The problem lies at the core of higher education in America I think? Just because you pay 100k for a degree doesn’t mean the rest of your life is going to be easy. If you can’t afford to live in Seattle with a college degree…. just move. The City owes you nothing.
Well I can understand your perspective. Both rail transit and TOD are useful concepts but it’s all in the details about whether or not they help people with less income.
Let’s take ST3 for example. Renton does not get Link but Issaquah does. Burien does not get Link but South Federal Way does. White Center does not get Link but Alaska Junction does. ST3 makes the public build DSTT2 rather than the developers in SLU (no one dared propose developer fees to make up the shortfall) who get the benefit to their property values. Then ST3 even kicks poorer SE Seattle residents out of the DSTT so wealthier riders can use them, and ST3 destroys Youngstown so Alaska Junction can get a station — all for the privilege of paying more in taxes and fees applied to everyone.
Anyway, while I think that consensus in Seattle always skews towards wealthier, empowered people willing and able to lobby elected officials, I can’t trash the concept of TOD and rail generically. TOD will be more affordable as buildings age. Rail transit out of traffic can improve access to jobs within 30 minutes from one’s residence and move more people with shorter round trips than a bus can.
So it’s the application and not the concept that dictates its benefit to the poor..
It’s not so much “against Black people or poor people” as “for ourselves”. Two-thirds of King County residents are suburban, or five-sixths if you include Snohomish and Pierce Counties. Most of them drive everywhere, and the biggest problem they see is getting stuck in highway congestion, so that’s where they want transit as an alternative. They see themselves using it either regularly or occasionally, or at least people like them will use it, or that that’s what the poor want too. They have little interest in local transit and don’t understand what people who ride it need. So they vote for Sound Transit measures but are less willing to vote for Metro measures.
“Sound Transit is for the upper classes, not poor people.”
Sound Transit is for everybody who makes regional trips. Both doctors and their nurses and orderlies make the same kinds of trips. So do tech workers and their janitors and food service staff. All kinds of people go to shows and parades and parks and libraries and to visit family and friends.
“The whole idea of a 40% fare box recovery for operational expenses is racist and classist to the core.”
Link’s fare is the same or less than Metro’s ($2.75) for distances up to Westlake-Rainier Beach, Northgate-Mt Baker, or (I estimate) Westlake-South Bellevue. That shows the efficiency of subways, that can combine multiple bus routes into one.
ST Express ($3.25) is more expensive than Metro because ST consolidated all routes into a flat fare a few years ago, so short-distance routes subsidize long-distance ones. That discrepancy will disappear soon when several routes will be replaced by Link or truncated at Link.
“[Subsidized housing] is for college educated urbanists who are pissed off they can’t afford a house in Seattle.”
They won’t qualify for it. Current subsidized housing has a low income threshold. It also has a years-long waiting lost.
“White collar public unions (teachers and office workers) are supporting I-135 because they believe they can get control of public housing for their workers.”
Some of them want to cut down the years-long waiting list for poor people they know or are in their community. Some of them have poor relatives, or will someday.
Even if I-135 successfully builds housing for up to 125% AMI, I don’t believe for a minute it will be enough units for everybody who qualifies. It will be a small fraction of that. Especially if it doesn’t get a really major funding source. So most union workers won’t be able to get a unit, and most of them probably realize that. In a far theoretical future if there are enough units for 1/3 the population like in Vienna, then it might, but I don’t see a clear path from here to there.
Well, in market rate housing, the best housing goes to higher incomes. Doesn’t make it right, but that’s the way it works. We need more resources, starting with housing and transit, for the bottom third of the public.
Even cracking the door to the idea that somebody who makes 80% or 100% of AMI needs public housing is dangerous. These people have unions, these people have lawyers, these people are the winners in life. The idea of entitlement is like heroin to these folks.
It’s not so much “against Black people or poor people” as “for ourselves”. Two-thirds of King County residents are suburban, or five-sixths if you include Snohomish and Pierce Counties.
It’s both. There are other political forces as well. For example, the case for West Seattle rail is weak, and the case for building it next is basically non-existent. I don’t think it would have happened without Dow Constantine. But it wasn’t just the various political forces, it was a fundamental misunderstanding of what mass transit is really good at. When the dust settles, we will have a system that really won’t work well for the people it is supposed to serve. Most of West Seattle will get very little out of West Seattle Link, even though they are clearly in the name. The same is true for Issaquah, Kirkland, Everett and Tacoma. Politics played a big part, but it was the politics from and for the ignorant.
Just to be clear, I was one of them. Until a few years ago, I always cared about transit, but never spent much time learning about. I never knew who Jarrett Walker was, let alone read his book. I would never be able to tell you the fundamental differences between say, BART and the DC Metro (let alone the Paris Subway). To expect politicians — who have way more important things to worry about — to be more knowledgeable than me is a bit much. To ask the general public to be is a fantasy. Not when our politics are so stratified and simplified (“transit good — cars bad — vote yes”).
The biggest problem is that our leaders never checked with the experts. If given the chance, there are dozens of qualified people who would say the spine — even for our sprawling metropolis — is a very bad idea. Despite the fact that we are very suburban, we aren’t Los Angeles. We really only have a handful of really dense areas in the entire region, and most are right here in the city. The county is huge. Scale matters. Really long transit lines can, at best, complement a very thorough, extensive urban system. But they never approach it in terms of value, and they certainly aren’t a substitute. Even if such lines are cheap to build (and ours aren’t) it is far more important — for everyone, including those in the suburbs — to get the urban part right. Someone in Lynnwood might appreciate that their bus ride to the station is a little shorter with this extension or that, but they will forever miss the fact that Link inexplicably skipped First Hill. That’s because the line was based on ignorance. Somehow getting to the distant cities was more important than getting the urban parts right. It is the opposite.
I think the fundamental problem is even simpler than what Ross describes (though I agree with almost everything he said). It’s basically that we’re building a suburban commuter system with inner-city technology. Given that, of course it doesn’t serve the suburban areas well (the damn thing is too slow!) and of course it also doesn’t serve the urban areas well, either (the damn thing doesn’t stop often enough or go to enough places!)
It just seems insane to waste so much money, but as long as we have politicians who benefit from it, and a not-insignificant percentage of urbanist supporters who are willing to build anything no matter the cost, the insanity will not stop.
Thank you, Anonymouse, for finally throwing some chips into the game, instead of just correcting the rest of us about the “process” on the Blog
Yes, civility matters. Honesty matters. Completeness matters. Assuming the best of others matters. When people honor them these Learned It In Kindergarten principles they can work better together, for longer periods of time, and produce better results.
But politics finally is a breakbones sport about the allocation of resources, public and private. When people make self-serving assertions as if they are received truth, they need to be called on it.
P. S. Because I see you are a perceptive reader, it shouldn’t surprise you that I agree 100% on the content of your comment. Very well said.
“The City owes you nothing.” And you owe the city nothing either, perhaps?
Per RossB, single purpose circulators are not very cost-effective. A better approach is to provide a grid of service providing the necessary circulation with short headway so waits are also short. At Northgate, routes 20, 40, 345, 346 provide service to NSC; the waits are short. At Westlake, routes 40, 62, and 70 serve SLU; the waits are short. At Capitol Hill, Route 60 and the FHSC serve Swedish; the waits are short; and, routes 8, 10, and 43 serve Kaiser Permanente; the waits are short. At BTC, routes 226 and 250 serve the hospital district; the waits are short. Before U Link, routes 25, 65, 75, and 372 served U Village and all served the same bay on NE Campus Parkway.
And who do YOU think is responsible for Sound Transit’s sprawling rail system, tacomee? Because it sure as Hell isn’t the “urbanist elites” who write on this blog. Well, maybe Lazarus.
I’ll tell you who it was: the political leaders of Pierce, Snohomish and South King who didn’t want Seattle and Bellevue to get another step ahead, even if the cities were going to pay for the system themselves.
Most of us here agree that better bus service will benefit more riders more generously than will the Follies of ST3. Your job is to convince your subarea not to secede from the agency, but to ensure that the agencies bountiful tax revenues are put to better use in your neck of the woods.
I’m familiar with Seattle and King Country politics, but I know the Tacoma/Pierce County side much better. Take out a map of the link in Tacoma and you’ll find it surrounds the Hilltop neighborhood on three sides. The train actually doubles back on itself…. why? Because the long time dream of White, affluent North Tacoma has been getting rid of the “blight” on Hilltop, replacing it with a richer class of people, using TOD or any means necessary…. hence, the train to nowhere. And the neighborhood gentrification is well under way….
The next target is Pacific ave, BRT and re-zoning leading the way. Knock down those cheap ass rentals and build 6 story apartment buildings! Pac Ave, Hilltop and the Eastside have some of the last market rate “affordable” housing left in Puget Sound. It’s likely to get re-developed anyway, but why have our tax dollars paying for this?
Sound Transit is a total shit show in Tacoma and if it could be voted out…. it would be. Nobody can look at that stupid LINK train route from a parking garage surrounded by homeless camps (the T-Dome) to dead ending in Stadium District and say it’s not crap with a straight face.
Peirce Transit is crap as well…. but it serves the very class of people Sound Transit is looking to displace, so what does that matter?
I believe that American History is a story of colonization, right or wrong. What the Lefty Urbanists want is more colonization, with them in charge…. using the tax money of the people getting colonized, pretending they’re not colonizers.
I-135 is the perfect example of this. It’s people making 80k (or more) believing they have just as much right to public housing as the poor souls working at Dollar General. And because people who make 80k or more have lawyers, I suspect they’ll end up with most of the I-135 housing.
I know this is hard for some people to hear, but it’s the truth. Why does Greater Seattle have shoddy bus service while spending billions on trains? Say it with me now…. Buses are Black, Trains are White.
Representative Ruth Fisher, D Tacoma, wrote the RTA enabling legislation. The three-county federated governance structure helps explain their decision making. The ST board room is named in her honor. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/tribnet/name/ruth-fisher-obituary?id=19556282
I found the structure very flawed from its beginning.
It’s Ruth, Strickland, Jeannie Darneille ….. Tacoma has had some bad leadership. The Tacoma Link made Councilman David Boe so mad I think he just quit. Smart guy,. It’s hard to soar like an eagle when work with turkeys.
You can include me (alongside Lazarus?) as a regular commentator who is generally support of the ST3 paradigm of intra-regional rail spine & suburban transit.
Ya, all the hatred here for “the Spine” is a bit misplaced. Seattle, thanks to the Vashon Ice Sheet, is basically a hourglass shape hemmed in by water. Anything you build here will have at least some proportion of spine like characteristic.
Would I prefer more of a Seattle urban focus? Absolutely.
But the State wouldn’t let Seattle go it alone because they were afraid of Seattle getting all the economic benefit of Light Rail, and they didn’t want Seattle to max out its taxing authority when they needed pro transportation Seattle votes to fund rural road packages.
And ST’s more suburban voters wouldn’t vote to fund ST unless locally raised taxes went to local projects. Hence subarea equity.
And now that Seattle has LR, and everyone can see how well it works, all the suburban subareas want LR too.
So we are where we are. But we are still a lot better off then we would have been without ST and with a 100% bus system run by whoever.
That said, I do think there is a productive path forward where the ST enabling legislation could be amended to allow Seattle to fund an additional, city only ST overlay subarea. Sort of like the current Seattle TBD, but focused just on ST and Link. Or maybe just divert the current TBD to ST.
Unfortunately a lot of people on this blog would rather just blow ST up and go back to Metro buses. But that is not a path forward. That is how we got here: basically behind.
AJ, Really?? You think Tacoma Dome Link is a good investment? You think Everett Link is a good investment? You think Issaquah to South Kirkland Link is a good investment?
While there might have been a good argument for a version of Issaquah to Bellevue that crossed the freeway west of Bellevue College and served the center of Factoria or one that swung north through a version of Lake Hills that was dramatically up-zoned, the alignment that ST is going to pursue is all-freeway all-the-time, with a station on the wrong side of the super-busy I-90/Richards Road interchange a long walk from anywhere in Factoria.
It is the freeway alignments that confirm the ST3 projects as “Follies”, not just their destinations. But even the destinations are questionable because of the damnable technology used. Fifty-five mile per hour top speeds in relatively slowly accelerating Light Rail vehicles do NOT a regional Metro make.
If ST wants to clone BART, it needs BART-like vehicles [ed note: “standard gauge” please]. But, really, who today wants to clone BART? Except for downtown SF-Oakland-Berkeley it’s empty. Even the tail south of 24th to Daly City and SFO is windows with no heads. The need for a second cross-bay tunnel is even in question.
It’s sad to see a great transit line (SF 24th to Walnut Creek) be dragged down by all the useless “extensions” every which way.
It’s one thing to support the service concept. It’s another to support bad matches of technology and trip length or spending extra billions on an unneeded second very deep tunnel Downtown.
Tacoma Dome and Everett and Issaquah don’t deserve six minute service at rush hour on manned trains that are slower than ST Express today. The region is paying high capital cost and then high labor cost to reach these places using Link — and the result will be slower for many transit trips.
Consider how different the Pierce discussion would be if the ST built tracks between Tacoma Dome and South Federal Way for a self-propelled less frequent train that could continue using the rail tracks that ST built to reach Lakewood or a fully automated less frequent train that has single track sections where expensive bridges are to be required!
Even after the 2016 vote, the Board could have chosen to study other technologies. The decision to stay with Link in these cases is political rather than objective.
To be clear, I think that Downtown Seattle to Lynnwood has the potential to be busy 24/7/365 all the way by 2040 and is fully warranted. It can be ST’s Walnut Creek line. Downtown Seattle to Downtown Bellevue is equally sound. The extension to Overlake looked reasonable until Work From Home became such a strong reality. But I doubt that Satya Nadella will put up with full-on WFH for much longer, improving the prospects for the stub. And if you go to Overlake you might as well go on to the nearby city center at Redmond.
However, the South Line, partially as a result of the belly east to the Rainier Valley and partially because of its love for freeway stations and airports will always be weak south of Rainier Beach Station. Had it received co-operation from Des Moines and built south along SR99, it might have become a solid line too, though perhaps not by 2040, but what is being built is just another version of South Sounder that goes through the CBD of one somewhat bigger city. It could have been truncated at Midway and a pair of south side bus/HOV ramps added to a new bus-only 240th bridge, giving a great bypass of the mess at Kent-Des Moines road and super-fast connection from buses to the train.
That would be enough for the south line.
Anything on the West Side of Seattle should be mostly at-grade in reserved right of way parallel to roadways where possible and in the median as on Martin Luther King Blvd where not. Some sort of tunnel through Lower Queen Anne at a minimum would be needed, but otherwise it could run on the surface through downtown. Very few people go from the Alaska Junction to downtown Ballard; the slow part through the CBD would not be nearly as damaging as the surface running through downtown Portland. LOTS of people go from Portland Eastside to Silicon Rainforest, even still.
It’s only four miles from downtown Ballard to downtown Seattle and another mile to SLU or Starbucks’ HQ. High speed is not needed. Frequency and reliability are.
All that adds up to “no need for ST3”.
The articles by Westneat and Talton in today’s Times are very depressing if predictable, although some us remember them and their paper as a cheerleader for this disaster.
Westneat tries to look at the bright side (as suggested by the waterfront parks director) by comparing a truly world class city — San Francisco’s desperate call for business tax cuts. Unfortunately he glosses over the expert’s report that places San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in the top five of doomed cities. But Westneat ignores the conclusions in the expert’s report he so heavily quotes:
1. The next Seattle City Council will face a $300 million general fund budget deficit. Forget about business tax cuts like San Francisco if the next council inherits a $300 million deficit. Without a doubt the current council will go down in history as the worst council in the history of Seattle, and like cowards are bailing before the cuts need to be made.
2. Westneat totally misreads the expert’s prediction. Westneat claims 44% of office space is “occupied”. Even for a progressive this is a stupid mistake. As the expert notes 2/3 (actually higher) of downtown office space has not yet rolled off their leases. Westneat somehow assumes those businesses will renew that space. Just the opposite. Employees can’t commute to office space that no longer exists. The 44% occupancy rate will move down, not up, toward the vacancy rate, which today in Seattle is only around 13% but growing every day. It took our firm two years to get out of our lease because the landlord knows it could not release the space.
Then Westneat suggests the UW open a branch college next to Amazon he acknowledges as someone who lives in SLU is dead, because he claims the UW “claims” it needs more computer science degrees, when in the same newspaper Talton points out openings for computer science degrees dropped 24%, — the largest of all fields — just slightly more than jobs in equity, diversity and inclusion (19%).
I think there were two groups of Seattle progressives (and Westneat hints at this but is so far left he misses the main point):
1. The Urbanist crowd who are just angry at wealth disparity (mostly their own). Tacomee is right: they are distraught their BA degree did not earn them enough in a high AMI city despite their high opinion of their intellect. This group despised the suburban work commuter but figured they would be commuter/transit slaves forever. At least they understood the suburban work commuters were only about the money.
2. The city council. I think they actually thought the suburban work commuter loved spending two hours/day of uncompensated time commuting to a POS city and agreed with their tragic policies. True imbeciles now existing stage right
WFH “woke” both groups up to reality. The angry folks at The Urbanist were probably surprised at WFH, but the council was dumbfounded all those work commuters hated them and their city. You would think this stupid council would have wondered why the dumb suburbanite would trashed spend two hours on a crummy packed bus because parking was artificially restricted rather than live in a dangerous city with crummy schools who send 22% of their kids to private school when housing prices are higher on the Eastside n
I would have thought that at least one of the two groups would have understood the entire point of an urban core is to lure lots of high income citizens to create enough tax revenue that even commuters who hate you pay all the bills, whether you like or respect them are not.
Seattle’s operating budget (and don’t even bring up the $3.5 billion in unfunded bridge repair and replacement which is a capital expense, or should be) is around $5.8 billion. My guess is over the next five years 20% of that will have to be cut absent some huge tax increase.
Which is exactly why this terrible and cowardly ciuncil is bailing.
I agree Glenn that Bellevue should be concerned. Personally I think Bellevue got ahead of its skis with its development plans and expected revenue in its race to replace Seattle as the regional center. Just like the vaunted Bellevue School Dist. is closing elementary schools due to budget deficits due to a loss of students, I think Bellevue City will need to scale backs its expenditures that are based on future construction that is unlikely right now.
The differences are Bellevue has a very vibrant retail area from big box stores to Bellevue Mall, most with free parking, Bellevue’s expenditures are much lower per capita than Seattle, and Bellevue’s loss will not so much be in existing office towers but planned future towers. Planned developments at East Main, Wilburton and The Spring Dist. always seemed optimistic to me, but now I think they are postponed mostly, and many will have to be rethought, and I imagine the investors are doing that right now.
It was a shame they built East Link where the people ain’t hoping to manufacture that ridership with new development, although at the time everyone including the city of Bellevue thought Bellevue would be the next NYC and everyone would get rich.
I agree that you may have gotten the tax revenue consequences for Seattle a little off. It is true the downtown core generated around 2/3 of Seattle’s tax revenue pre-pandemic, but WFH will have different revenue impacts:
1. B&O tax. The business and occupation tax is a tax on gross receipts for businesses. This is the largest source of tax revenue, and is expected to decline the most, or be reallocated to other cities.
2. Sales tax. This comes from business purchases because the sales tax is allocated to the point of purchase, commuters shopping and dining (and the lunch trade is critical for most restaurants to provide enough hours for staff), and especially sales tax on new construction because a new office tower can cost a hundred million dollars. The problem for Seattle today is it doesn’t have a backup retail tax source like Bellevue.
3. REET tax. This is the real estate excise tax that is applied to any sale of property. When large office towers are sold it generates a lot of REET tax.
4. Head taxes. Seattle has taxes that tax headcounts as well as highly compensated employees that brought in over $400 million/year.
5. Parking taxes. Pre-pandemic Seattle charged a 10% parking tax that it raised to I think 15% that brought in quite a bit of revenue that went toward SDOT.
6. Utility taxes. The cost of utilities themselves must match the cost to produce and must be spent on utilities, but taxes on top of the utilities is a very large source of revenue for cities, and has few restrictions on its use.
7. Property tax. Actually, this will have almost no impact on the city of Seattle except from the loss of new construction which is exempt from the levy cap. A city has a property tax levy, which is capped except for 1% annual increases unless the voters vote to increase the levy. The total levy, which does not go up or down on the basis the cost to run a city is the same whether property values go up or down, is then allocated among all the properties based on valuations. If some properties go up and others go down.
My guess is there will be many appeals by office tower owners and other downtown property owners to lower the value of their properties for tax purposes (Bellevue will not have as many appeals because much of the property is still not developed and so its value has not increased). However the total levy revenue for Seattle remains the same. The decline in valuations for downtown buildings is simply reallocated to other properties in Seattle until the levy — plus 1%/year — is realized because the cost to run a city does not decline because property values do, just like in 2008 when property owners wondered why their property tax stayed the same when their property value fell, or in 2020 when property values soared but the property tax stayed the same, except for voter approved levies.
Probably the biggest impact will be on renters because in order to maintain the levy those properties will see their property taxes increase to make up for the decline in downtown commercial values, which will be passed onto renters. I wouldn’t look for my rent to decrease over the next five years no matter how much housing is built.
This is why I noted earlier that one of the big benefits of a vibrant commercial core is it generates so much tax revenue that allows a city like Seattle to spend more and lowers the residents’ tax burden, and commuters have such low social costs. For example, on Mercer Island we get very little tax revenue from our commercial core and so have much leaner budgets so the city has to tax property higher.
I also think it is unfair and unproductive for SLU’er to accuse me of hating Seattle, a city I have worked and lived in since 1959. I love the city, and have been through the ups and downs in the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s until the dot com bubble burst, the rebirth in the early 2000’s until the crash in 2008, the resurgence (almost too fast) beginning in 2014 along with the tents, and today. I loved my office in The Smith Tower, except the city changed around me. It became dead retail wise so what was the point of commuting to Seattle, paying a much higher rent, plus $275/mo. for parking, when I can get anemic retail on MI.
The difference today is I think a lot of Seattle’s problems were self-inflicted, and I think Seattle voters think that way too which is why they elected Harrell and most of the council is bailing. My post was mostly based on the columns by Westneat and Talton in Sunday’s Times. One lives in SLU and the other in Belltown, and both are progressives. If SLU’er has a problem it is with Westneat and Talton. Walking around and seeing people (although Westneat stated SLU is dead) and claiming everything is fine is while Nike is pulling out is not a good policy. This is no time to put your head in the ground.
The Times estimates Seattle will have an operating budget deficit of $240–$250 million for 2023, which will increase each year thereafter, although if you include the loss of REET and sales tax on commercial development I think the figure is closer to $300 million. What this means is the next council is going to have to cut expenditures, or raise taxes, and the main place taxes will increase will be property taxes to offset the decline in valuations and property tax paid by downtown commercial buildings (and utility taxes depending on much room Seattle has under the cap, although utility taxes are some of the most regressive). Seattleites can still spend the same if they want, they just will have to pay more, and if it is property tax that hits renters the hardest.
There is no free lunch even if some like SLU’er want to think there is.
Oh, the dissonance.
DT, 2/13/23, 10:44am:
DT, 2/12/23, 9:18pm (11.5 hours prior):
POS = Piece of Shit, if you didn’t know. And when you insult electeds, you insult their electorate, which insults the city they populate. Suburbanites didn’t elect the Seattle City Council – Seattleites did. You know, people who actually live in the city that’s “tragically” left you behind.
That was, without a doubt, one of your most contemptuous posts regarding the current state of Seattle. You clearly love the distant Seattle of your youth, not the Seattle of today. Thankfully, you can return to it via VHS rental of Sleepless in Seattle.
PS: Westneat and Talton are definitely Liberals, but not Progressives (and definitely not Leftists).
Our own Donald Trump shows himself to be increasingly unhinged in his vicious rants. He’s largely right on the substance, but the glee with which he delivers the “bad news” shows that the point is not betterment of the community but simply that old Reactionary favorite “owning the Libs”.
What I don’t get is that T&D’s website shows him as pretty darn “traditional liberal”. He takes the side of the little guy, not the oppressors.
Is it just generational? The kids don’t sit up straight and say “Yes, Miss Beesley” any longer?
“POS = Piece of Shit, if you didn’t know. And when you insult electeds, you insult their electorate, which insults the city they populate. Suburbanites didn’t elect the Seattle City Council – Seattleites did. You know, people who actually live in the city that’s “tragically” left you behind.”
Uh, Nathan, so when you criticized Pres. Trump you were insulting the electorate who elected him?
Didn’t Seattleites just elect Harrell and Davison? Isn’t nearly the entire council bailing? It was the Seattle suburbanites who elected Harrell and Davison, not The Urbanist crowd. There is no urbanism in this region, anywhere.
You bet I criticize those who elected Sawant and many others on the council, and their bad policy, and a long line of awful mayors. Was I insulting Seattlites because I opposed a pedophile for a mayor the citizens elected? Just because someone wins an election doesn’t mean I think their policies are good, or I owe them blind loyalty. Other than you and Tom who thinks the last six years have been good policy for Seattle? I have lived and/or worked in Seattle since 1959 and easily paid 25 times more than you ever have in taxes to Seattle, so don’t act like you are some spokesperson for Seattle.
“PS: Westneat and Talton are definitely Liberals, but not Progressives (and definitely not Leftists).”
What does that even mean? I don’t follow either if the data does not jibe with their opinion, and I don’t live in a confirmation bias world like you. IT IS THE TAX REVENUE. GET IT? Very objective. Seattleites will have to make some deep cuts or agree to pay more in taxes. That is all WFH means. Big deal. Before with the downtown core it was other people’s money. Not it is yours.
Again all this really means is less tax revenue from the downtown core so Seattleites will have to pay more for the services they want, or have accustomed to. For those who don’t live there or work there anymore it isn’t our problem. Like Tacomee says, if you don’t like it move, or pay for what you want. That is what I did.
You haven’t answered the Question, Daniel, which is was “how can you consider it unfair to characterize your commentary as anything but spiteful hatred when you call a city a Piece of Shit, and call its entire council imbeciles?”
I think there’s a difference between insult and criticism. For example: I criticize when I think an otherwise good-faith proposal is a bad idea. I insult when I think a bad-faith comment is unworthy of a respectful response.
I thought you had, like, three college degrees in various philosophical and rhetorical fields? But you can’t tell the difference between Liberalism, Progressivism, and Leftism, nor do you understand the importance of labelling in an words-only medium? Saddening.
“San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in the top five of doomed cities. ”
Oddly enough, a couple hours ago I ran across this tweet showing how dead downtown Portland is on a Saturday night:
“the entire point of an urban core is to lure lots of high income citizens to create enough tax revenue that even commuters who hate you pay all the bills,”
Commuters in and of themselves don’t generate tax revenue, except a little bit of sales tax at lunch. Sure, a few might do some shopping after work or whatever but a huge number just want to head home.
The tax revenue comes from property taxes on the buildings. The purpose of the downtown is to serve big business interests.
Commuters represent a significant expense for a city due to the amount of infrastructure required for those not paying much into the system.
I do highly suggest you remember back to the 1980s, when Portland and Seattle had truly dead downtowns. Without the downtown residential developments that started in the 1990s, on Saturdays you could easily walk around for hours and see maybe 5 people. People went downtown to work and that was it.
The reality is that commercial only downtowns really don’t have any sort of practical purpose. In actual functioning cities, businesses and residents are dispersed over a wide area without really having a discernible downtown. Sure, London has a geographical center, but it’s not really any more dense than any other place.
Glenn, I think that B&O taxes were also non-trivial contributors from downtown Seattle for the City as well. Not nearly as much as the property tax levies, of course, but not nothing either.
B&O taxes are significant but how much of those are derived specifically from commuters?
Daniel claims wealthy Eastside commuters were leaving piles of money in Seattle, when experience in all other cities contradicts this. Eg, Detroit is in financial trouble because such a high percentage of workers are commuters that don’t actually generate any income, but quite a number of expenses, for the city.
Also noted in The Seattle Times Microsoft recently took a $1.2 billion charge to exit its office leases off campus early, and Google took a $500 million charge to exit leases. No data was given on Amazon, but with its stock price down almost 50% and Amazon planning to lay off thousands of office workers I have to imagine it will need to take a charge to exit leases for space not being used.
Like I have said, the only real impact is to tax revenue. As long as Seattleites are willing individually to pay more taxes, most notably property taxes, the next council will not have to cut expenditures, and the citizens are free to raise their property taxes further with I-135 and Move Seattle 2024, and maybe even SB5528 to complete WSBLE.
Daniel has been pointing out — albeit obliquely — that if 25% of a company’s activities occur off-site in workers’ homes, the a quarter of the B&O tax on “business activity” which would have been credited to Seattle/King County is applied to whatever polity/polities the WFH’ers live in, and he IS an attorney, so he’s probably right about that.
In a “point of sale” world, sales taxes and business activity isn’t just where the entity is registered.
Dude man, your hatred of the city is already a little anachronistic. Was just out all this weekend in downtown Seattle and it was pretty hopping and we all had a great time. Seeing the hordes of people in downtown, I think Seattle will survive this just fine. I do kind of worry about the empty towers in Bellevue though.
Both can be true – Seattle’s finances are highly dependent on non-resident spend, both regularly commuters & tourists. The city is vibrant and should be able to balance its books, but so far without a strong return of commuters (the tourists are mostly back) it hasn’t figure out how to balance the books yet.
I do find it ironic you think Seattle’s downtown is vibrant but fret about Bellevue – it is the Lake Washington contempt flowing in the opposite direction. I see little different between the two business districts – Seattle’s CBD adjacent neighborhoods are far denser & more active, but the actual office cores are pretty interchangeable. Bellevue needs to do the same thing as Seattle: allow more residential & other non-office uses so the downtown is 24/7 active, which is a process that is well underway.
I didn’t interpret the comments about the towers as contempt — merely concern. I think the concern is reasonable. I would bet that Bellevue’s downtown is more tech dependent than Seattle’s. Seattle is also a much bigger tourist destination. Seattle is also rebuilding its waterfront, which in my opinion will be spectacular. This will draw people in from other cities, but also from other parts of the city. Bellevue is built around malls (some inside, some outside). It has some nice parts to it, but it fundamentally not as attractive as Seattle.
All that being said, I think downtown Bellevue will be fine. The downtown will hurt, but it won’t be horrible. It probably won’t be hit as hard as the dot-com bust. Bellevue (and the region) recovered from that fairly quickly, even though it was really rough on software engineers (myself included). Downtown Bellevue has been slowly making the right moves for some time now. I would much rather live or work in downtown Bellevue than Factoria, Eastgate or the business parts of Issaquah (downtown Issaquah is different). Downtown Kirkland is probably one of the few East Side business locations more attractive.
As for city revenue, these things go up and down. Few American cities are in great financial shape. But again, Seattle (and Bellevue) have been making the right moves recently. The key is to increase density. It is reasonable to fret about low vacancy rates, but if you actually look at the number of offices occupied, it is way more than a decade ago. This is really good for a city’s finances. Costs went up, but not nearly as much as potential revenue. Likewise, way more people in the city is good news. Dense areas subsidize low density areas (Magnolia should send Capitol Hill a thank-you note). Seattle (and Bellevue) may struggle balancing the budget (especially given our ridiculous tax structure, limited by the state) but they will survive and rebuild just fine. Even if there is a downturn, this will be nothing compared to the past. Seattle is a boom and bust city, and I don’t think this will be much of a bust.
AJ. Yes CBD is CBD. The difference is that downtown Seattle has millions of tourists. Downtown Bellevue does not and likely will never have them. I was also at downtown Bellevue this weekend, and there were less pedestrian traffic in what I saw of downtown Bellevue than the commercial strip on sleepy Upper Queen Anne. This isn’t about contempt. This is my own two eyes seeing a drastic difference in vibrance despite all the Eastsiders here thinking that downtown Seattle is dead. Yes, y’all need to fret more about downtown Bellevue.
To add to RossB’s comment. I agree, I don’t think Bellevue is in much trouble either. But I did find Daniel Thompson’s comments above distasteful and instantly dated. In this weird desire for schadenfreude and putting down Seattle, a lot of Eastsiders are missing the similar issues brewing in their very own backyard. I got a distinct sense of “hah hah, look at those empty towers in downtown Seattle” while ignoring those empty towers in Bellevue. And the Eastside has less economic diversity than Seattle.
For a place that apparently no one wants to go, downtown Seattle felt very lively this weekend. I was happy and optimistic for the city and region.
Out of curiosity, I sense an implication in your comments that Bellevue feels equally empty during night time/weekends as DT implies Seattle is (which, as you noted, it is not).
Do you have evidence that Bellevue is actually so desolate, too? My sense, from driving around the area some evenings, that it’s fairly busy in the same way that it was pre-pandemic – there are no major “tourist” destinations but the restaurants around Bellevue Square and in Old Bellevue definitely seemed fairly well attended.
It’s worth remembering, also, that downtown Bellevue is really pretty small, and there aren’t “that many” business towers in it – there are a few, plus the ones in construction now, to be sure; but those always emptied out before evening anyway, so whatever activity there was at night was much more likely due to the locals. I did drive past one of the more “corporate oriented” restaurants one evening, though, and the line of cars at the valet parking lot was pretty long even for that late at night (10pm) – so I can only assume that that place is also doing fine, despite the perhaps reduced daytime clientele.
Anyway, these are my anecdotal observations about Bellevue. If you have any to bolster your point about how Bellevue is not doing well, either, I’d love to see them.
Thanks in advance!
Might be semantics, but I think SLUer is conflating Seattle’s broader downtown with Bellevue’s CBD? Tourists are activating the Waterfront & 1st Ave, but not 4th & 5th. Union Square is very quiet after 5pm. The area around Bellevue’s transit center has much more in common with Union Square than Pike Place. Bellevue’s Old Main neighborhood is bustling most evenings, which has little to do with the Amazon/Vulcan towers that run along 108th.
Yeah, Bellevue is doing fine. The tourists are in Bellevue Square, which never stopped being busy once they were allowed to reopen.
Bellevue office vacancy rates are much lower than Seattle (11% vs 25%), despite the Microsoft consolidation to the expanding Redmond campus. Amazon is a question mark for office demand in both cities, but they’re still proceeding with five of the six buildings they had in the pipeline in Bellevue, albeit slow-rolling the interior fitting of those spaces. Meanwhile, they’re actively giving up existing space in South Lake Union. Whether Amazon space needs shrink or not in aggregate, where do you suppose they’d rather be?
AJ and Anonymous. No, I was exactly referring to the Old Bellevue area and not the CBD. Obviously CBD will be dead on the weekend. I had relatives visiting and who wanted to check out Bellevue on Saturday, so we went there for lunch. It’s fine, there are people, but there aren’t significantly more people on the street than even residential neighborhoods like Upper Queen Anne and certainly less than neighborhoods like Fremont or Old Ballard. We then went to Belltown/Pike/waterfront area and it was like we were on a different planet in terms of the vibrancy.
I suppose if you live or shop in downtown Seattle retail vibrancy is important, but the main point of WFH for Seattle is declining taxes. Empty office towers or streets or shops mean less tax revenue.
The options for Seattleites at that point are whether to cut expenditures to meet lower tax revenue, or to increase taxes to make up the lost tax revenue from the commercial core, or a combination of both.
Most of the taxes I list in my prior post can’t be increased by a city, or are market determined. There is the utility tax but my guess is Seattle is near the statutory max on that. A higher head tax seems counterproductive to me, as does a higher parking tax. There is little a city can do about declining B&O tax revenue because businesses are leaving.
The one revenue source that can — and must — be increased is the property tax, because the property levy must stay the same, and be reallocated to properties if some property values decline.
If Seattle’s expenditures remain the same, but it has lower tax revenue from other taxes and the commercial core, and those commercial property values decrease, then either the other properties have to pick up the slack, or expenditures are cut to match lower tax revenue.
It will be a painful discussion for the next council. Seattleites are not used to expenditure cuts. People will see their residential property values probably fall a bit or stay the same, but their property taxes increase to make up the difference unless the council cuts expenditures pretty deeply.
Although I don’t know that they always understand it, since 50% of Seattleites rent, those increased property taxes are going to flow directly into higher rents.
Other than the decline in tax revenue from the commercial core that Seattle has used in the past to fund expenditures and lower taxes on residents, as long as Seattleites are willing to pay more in property taxes and rent, WFH and the situation in downtown Seattle won’t have a huge impact, except for fewer shops and restaurants. Seattleites will just have to pay more for the city they want or have, most likely higher property taxes and rents.
Thank you for the clarification.
I have not been in Old Bellevue on weekends in a long time, but my impression is that it has never been as bustling as “downtown Ballard”, even pre-pandemic. However, my impression (from, say, last year) was that it had recovered to pre-pandemic levels of being busy. So I think a lot of what you are seeing is just the relative density of both attractions and population in the two regions. Old Bellevue is really quite small – there’s something like 5 blocks of retail along Main Street from the water to Bellevue Way, plus maybe one or two blocks in either direction going North-South. South of Main Street you also have a few blocks of condos/apartments but housing density drops pretty fast after that (the properties in Meydenbauer are large). So just for that reason it will likely never “feel” busy, but that doesn’t mean it’s dying, any more than Seattle is dying. It’s doing just fine – by Bellevue standards.
Old Main St. in Bellevue is mostly bars and restaurants and is much busier during the night than the day. The restaurants are packed, and it takes several weeks to get a reservation. Still I doubt it is as busy as some parts of Capitol Hill on weekends near the clubs where my son goes to party although the patrons spend more per capita.
This area is also seeing some very high-end housing construction (condos) although the height limit is lower than the main parts of Bellevue. I was interested in the development at the west end of Main St. but my wife prefers a SFH, and MI.
Most of the throngs — day and night — are between NE 4th and NE 8th with Lincoln Square North and South on one side and Bellevue Mall on the other, with the Hyatt kitty corner. If they ever decide on a design the Bellevue Performing Arts Center will be on NE 10th and Bellevue Way and quite impressive.
Personally, I find the Lincoln Square/Bellevue Mall area overwhelming on a weekend day or night, although my wife and daughter like it and the skybridge. The amount of housing in this area is huge, on top of the visitors. Parking is free and plentiful at Lincoln Square and Bellevue Square, at least during non-work hours or you shop there. Old Main St. is tight on parking although there is a reasonably priced parking garage and lots of parking near the park.
My understanding is Freeman is planning a massive development on the west side of NE 4th and Bellevue Way. You can get from Old Main St. to Bellevue Square through the park but it is a long walk, but pretty. If Freeman develops the area at NE 4th that would make the walk through the park end up at retail vibrancy beginning farther south on Bellevue Way.
There is also downtown Kirkland, but IMO the development has ruined the charm of its waterfront district and it can be a zoo. Other than that, not too many places with real night retail density on the eastside, unless maybe Old Front St. The key to the eastside is the zoning condenses the retail so whatever retail we have/had is in one place and walkable, and the big box stores in another, not that it exceeds Seattle. For many decades we had no retail vibrancy on the eastside except maybe Bellevue Square and had to go to Seattle, which back then was vibrant and happening. Bellevue is just the reaction to downtown Seattle.
As I’ve written before, the attitude goes back to Nixon. Old tricky Dick may not have been the first to pioneer this line of thinking, but he certainly perfected it. Embrace suburbia, and demonize cities. Make subtle (or not so subtle) racist attacks at the leadership or the people who live in cities. Notice how often the word “woke” is used in these sorts of rants. That is clearly about race. Except the attacks aren’t only about race. It is about the left, the progressives. The folks who take positions that are seen as extreme in one era, and common sense only a generation later (Social Security, Civil Rights, Gay Marriage, you get the idea). These are the people who are somehow screwing up these wonderful cities. This is not a conservative mindset — it is reactionary. Conservatism is based on moving slowly, or cautiously. Reactionary thinking (which was the foundation of the Reagan/Gingrich revolution) is about rolling back the social and economic progress of the post-war era. Yet they used the social strategy pioneered by Nixon.
My favorite bit of evidence from the Nixon White House was this quote from Ehrlichman, his former head of domestic affairs: https://www.vera.org/reimagining-prison-webumentary/the-past-is-never-dead/drug-war-confessional
This is a political strategy based on forcibly repressing the opposition (pretty much textbook fascism). It worked, or course. Which is not to say that everyone who adheres to this reactionary philosophy is a fascist, but only that they often go hand in hand. While some clutch at their pearls about the changes going on in the city, others use such concerns to make the next move. Crack down, using legal or illegal means. (The police are ready to lend a helping hand. Even in very liberal Seattle, the police department — as a whole — have been breaking the law for over ten years now).
But it is also meant to prove the reactionaries right. You see, if the cities are actually attractive, if somehow the same basic strategy used in every advanced country actually works here, then their reactionary approach fails. Without this idea of cities constantly dying (for over fifty years now) they’ve got nothing, except maybe lower taxes. It is pretty hard to make the claim that “Stockholm is dying”, or “Oslo is dying”, but Portland? Sure, because Portland is very “woke”. On the face of it, this seems ludicrous (given the racial makeup of Portland) yet it is a common assertion. It doesn’t make sense unless you remember the history of racism in America. The N-word was not only used against African Americans, back in the day. Against liberal whites, they would attach a suffix, “lover” (N***er-Lover). History doesn’t repeat, but it sure as hell echoes.
Oh, my….President Nixon? That’s way back in the rear view mirror….. I thought it might be out of sight even by now. The current Liberal talking points script blames everything bad in America in President Reagan…. but man, you get style points for bringing up old Tricky Dick.
Since we’re talking the 1970s, let’s bring an old African American saying…. It is what it is. That’s Seattle. Cities are sort of like the Titanic, they’re hard to get moving, harder to slow down and damn near impossible to turn around. So Seattle is on a course that’s not easy to change. Maybe impossible even. Ask Detroit about what market forces and fate can do to a City. Or Las Vegas. Nobody saw Microsoft and Amazon bringing about the huge changes in Seattle before they actually happened. And I doubt any self proclaimed municipal prophet can guess the next 20 years either. Seattle.. It is what it is.
I think if a person steps back from what’s happening politically in Seattle, they’ll see two packs of fools trying (believing ?) they can “save” the City. First up is Weatneat, the Seattle Times, the old fogy homeowner crowd who believe that Seattle needs Law and Order, strict zoning and low taxes to help business. The second crew of fools is the Urbanist, Publicola, Liberal Arts Lefties and Armchair City Planners on twitter. Their vision of Seattle is housing and social programs for everyone! Paid for with more taxes on evil Amazon and the like.
In the end Westneat and Josh Feit are really bothers from different mothers. Both agree that Seattle is dying and we need some sort of massive government intervention to save it. So Seattle needs to become either a police state or a huge public housing project. I believe neither vision is likely to ever have enough funding or political will make much of a difference. Seattle is…. what it is.
The most important thing in life is separate the political from the personal. I highly recommend making life choices that benefit you financially and never let politics govern your life. Because Eastern Washington is full of poor White folks living in trailers who believed President Trump was going to fix shit for them…. while young, educated but lower to mid income folks in Seattle who believe I-135 is going to fix shit for them. There’s a great deal of disappointment and anger on the Left and Right these days. I say educate yourself, vote, but most of all mind your money.
Tacomee coming out as one of the Enlightened Radical Centrists.
I look forward to infinite haranguing about how ineffective governments are while simultaneously bashing policy proposals for potentially having too many effects.
I also look forward to more haughtiness about how “if you can’t afford it, move somewhere else” immediately followed by “new construction is unaffordable and therefore shouldn’t be built”. I always wonder who NIMBYs think built their house, and what the folks who lived there before them thought of that new construction.
Unfortunately for indecisive centrists, in the great Trolley Problem that is the current Polycrisis, even milquetoast moderates will have blood on their hands.
The problem with calling people here names is that it can go all ways, and so does blame. For example, one could also say that Nathan is one of the leftie holier-than-thou people who never builds coalitions and thus has just as much blood on their hands; but what would be the point in doing so?
It is far more useful, in the long run, to build bridges. Tacomee seems like they have experience in the industry; maybe some of us disagree with part of what they say (I certainly have in the past). But their experience is valuable. Their viewpoint is aligned with what a non-insignificant part of the population believes. Finding ways to relate to this group, finding mutual ground in problems we all care about solving, and building on that mutual ground is the way to address the problems in the long run.
You may call this centrism, too – and you would be right, of course. I am firmly convinced that it is the only way forward, because the problems we face are too big to not impact us all – and thus the solutions have to be, also. If we can’t find a way to work together, we really are doomed, as climate change effects become more and more significant. So let’s work together. Yes, even with people who sometimes come across as haughty or call Seattle City Council names, etc. We don’t have a choice. Divided we fall.
If there’s one contribution I want to make to this group, it’s that point :) Because I believe the details are just an afterthought if we don’t get that one right.
Ross, I think it is a little simpler than that. Folks have been moving from the city to the suburbs for a hundred years, and sometimes moving back. Depends a lot on the city, public safety, schools, and so on. Let’s not forget one of the biggest opponents of gay marriage was Obama because he knew Black Americans were opposed to gay marriage, and it took the Supreme Court to overrule him. Didn’t Nixon form the EPA? And wage and price controls? And appoint the Supreme Court justice who penned Roe v. Wade?
It really should not be a surprise that workers did not like spending two hours/day on public transit in uncompensated time commuting from the city they lived in to the big city for work. That is true for every city, no matter how vibrant. If they liked the city, they would have been living in it. I am sure urban dwellers would not like commuting two hours/day in uncompensated time to the suburbs to work. WFH was long overdue. WFH is probably the biggest civil right in the last decade. It freed millions, and gave them back two hours of every workday. In many ways WFH is the embodiment of the PSRC’s very progressive land use policies.
WFH just means tax revenue has been reallocated from the urban core to other areas. The commercial tax revenue allowed a city like Seattle to spend lavishly while keeping taxes (and rents) down for residents, and big cities tend to own more of the social costs. Since Seattle at this time has a weak retail base the loss of tax revenue is compounded, including by the rise of Bellevue. About 99.9% of the citizens in this region don’t approach this ideologically, or from the days of Nixon. They just go where they want to live and play, and spend their money there. There is no animus toward Seattle. They just prefer to live and shop someplace else.
For the next Seattle Council the choice will be to cut expenditures to match revenues, raise revenues, bond (usually a bad idea), or a combination. We know which groups will support cutting expenditures, which bonding, and which raising taxes.
All I keep trying to point out is based on the property levy concept about the only place any additional tax revenue can be raised, and must be raised to offset a decline in property taxes paid by commercial buildings, is the rest of the properties in the city, which will raise rents for everyone because those additional taxes will be passed along.
At best Seattle was building around 6000 housing units/year, and now that has ground to a halt. Upzoning won’t create any new housing for many, many years, whether it is affordable or not, but rents are going up next year because property taxes are going up, unless the next council makes some very deep cuts, which every interest group will oppose.
The argument Seattleites on this blog should be having, rather than denial, is do you support cuts or tax increases, where would you cut, which taxes would you increase, and how much. My guess is for 2023 Seattle is looking at a $300 million deficit.
My city has the same issues. Covid stimulus has run out, inflation has been running at around 7%, it has realized additional revenue from WFH and sales tax, but MI citizens will have to decide whether to raise taxes or cut expenditures, despite passing a very large school levy in 2021 and a very large increase in the parks levy in 2022. The biggest problem IMO is the state and county are hogging all the tax capacity and are less efficient with it than the cities are.
Ah, no, you have me pegged all wrong. I believe in government.
In my world, Pierce Transit, Sound Transit, Metro…. etc…could all get together and figure out how to build a better overall transit system next year and make it happen. Not Sound Transit tear the living hell out of Chinatown/CD for 10 years building a tunnel not currently needed as local bus service gets worse.
Sound Transit has a 40 year growth plan. You think anybody had any idea what was going to happen in Seattle 40 years ago? It’s a bad joke. How about a down and dirty 2-5 year plan? With realistic projections about growth? How about ST stop drilling tunnels and fixes the broken stuff in the tunnels it already has? How about reasonable zoning changes and cutting builder’s fees to help with housing? How about admitting the City is like a huge living beast we all have to try to get along with because there’s no way to truly control the damn thing?
Yeah, I think a long term “master plan” for Seattle is silly…. mostly because it steals resources from the here and now.
“You may call this centrism, too – and you would be right, of course. I am firmly convinced that it is the only way forward, because the problems we face are too big to not impact us all – and thus the solutions have to be, also. If we can’t find a way to work together, we really are doomed, as climate change effects become more and more significant. So let’s work together.”
I’m a centrist too, although my ideas are left of anonymouse or tacomee. So the whole spectrum is a wide continuum. We do need to work together, and leave room for a range of opinions and preferences. It’s only the most destructive extremes that need to be prevented. So while I don’t like P&Rs or unwalkable areas, I’m willing to compromise on them because so many suburbanites feel they’re essential. Likewise, I’m willing to leave some parts of Seattle low density and keep some waterfront mansions for those who like that kind of thing. But that makes me more insistent to get what I want somewhere, and within the ring of outermost urban villages seems like the right place to focus on.
Mike’s position makes a lot of sense to me. Build out from where we already have decent density (of housing as well as transit), making it easier to piggyback on infrastructure, and letting people who feel strongly about their SFH-with-large-lots, and who have the political clout to get in the way, keep their large lots, and stay out of the way, is a reasonable approach. I don’t have any interest in rezoning Medina to allow Ballard-style apartments; it’s just not worth it. Better to make sure that we have good transit going to the existing ones, and find ways to build them in West Woodlands more easily, too (to pick at one particular example).
Actually Mike’s vision is the vision of the PSRC: to prevent sprawl allocate future population and housing growth in urban areas and town centers near walkable retail and transit (TOD).
This allows less car ownership and ideally results in less carbon emissions. It also allows cities to grant additional regulatory limits like height in exchange for affordable housing set asides which is not possible in the SFH zone, condenses retail so it is walkable, and allows a better mix of unit sizes on larger multi-family lots. Don’t double down on what the PSRC sees as the original sin — basically zoning all three counties for some kind of development and housing — by allowing more growth in those areas that are hard to serve and have no transit service.
Meanwhile the GMPC is the council that accepts future population growth targets and allocates those to cities in the form of future housing allocations/targets, in this case through 2044, and requires the city’s zoning to meet those allocations, which virtually every city already does because of the huge amount of unrealized housing zoning capacity in their commercial and multi-family zones based on the PSRC’s 2035 Vision Statement.
The current HB 1110 which would allow 4 or 6 unit plexes on any SFH zone was recently amended to remove any requirements that any of the units be affordable if limited to four units, which should tell you something about the true intent.
“… Folks have been moving from the city to the suburbs for a hundred years,…”
It’s easy to prove this as false in Seattle’s case. From 2010 Seattle’s population grew by 21%. King County as a whole was at 17% as was the MSA (17%).
I know it’s really easy to point to the 2021 estimate as lower than 2020, but 2020-1 was a very atypical year. 2022 estimates due out this spring may show increases again.
So get over this preoccupation for living in the 1970’s and 1980’s! Urban flight is no longer a universal long-term thing.
No one said it was Al. We all know Seattle’ and king Co.’s population grew over the last ten years. Some no doubt moved from Seattle to the Eastside (especially Millenials) and others moved to Seattle like my son to attend UW. Obviously through the years folks have moved from Seattle to the suburbs — or the Eastside would not have the same population as Seattle today — and others have moved to Seattle as I noted.
But that really isn’t the issue. The issue is the loss of tax revenue for Seattle from WFH.
Daniel, OPCD data shows that in 2022 Seattle built 12,591 units. Q4 2022 shows 1,819 units receiving construction permits with a pipeline of 24,339 units permitted but not built. I anticipate a slowdown in project starts in 2023 /2024 but development grinding to a halt is not showing up in the data. . Per Q4 2022 occupied units in Downtown Seattle are at 55,330, the highest total to date. There was a drop in 2020 during the height of covid but that has rebounded since.
While return to office rates through February are at ~45%, foot traffic is at 75%, which means even without workers returning en mass, pedestrians downtown has shown signs of recovery. The trend year over year shows incremental positive growth. Things are not as apocalyptic as you make it out to be. See OPCD data and Downtown Seattle Association database if you want references.
“Mike’s vision is the vision of the PSRC”
The difference between the PSRC and me is the PSRC focuses on a few highrise districts (“urban growth centers”), while I also argue for expanding other urban villages and adding missing-middle housing between them. The PSRC’s growth targets are based on future population increases, and assume the status quo is OK. I argue for higher targets to also address the backlog that is causing prices to rise so rapidly. And I would also like to see small highrise clusters around non-UGC stations like Roosevelt and Mt Baker, like Vancouver has. The PSRC doesn’t address this: it focuses on a few large growth centers; e.g., another Northgate here or there.
Mike, one of the proposals in the upcoming Seattle comprehensive plan is to reclassify Ballard as an Urban Center. With this comes PSRC resources reserved to regional growth centers (think transit planning and funding as a subset). With the growth that Ballard has undertaken, in my opinion, it’s about time. Growth centers are tied to both population and employment growth.
Thanks Alonso, I took a look at the sites you mention.
Here is 2021 State Downtown by the DSA. https://downtownseattle.org/2021/02/state-of-downtown-2021-examines-unprecedented-year-looks-to-recovery/
You can download the report itself. I like the DSA but do note its motto is optimism. Its economic report has some data like jobs and office space occupancy that seem “optimistic” to me. https://downtownseattle.org/files/research/economic-report.pdf
Here are the future population estimates by the Office of Financial Management. https://ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/dataresearch/pop/april1/ofm_april1_population_final.pdf I think these estimates must be old because IIRC Seattle lost 0.33% of its population in 2021.
Here is all cities. https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=https%3A%2F%2Fofm.wa.gov%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fpublic%2Fdataresearch%2Fpop%2Fapril1%2Fofm_april1_population_change_and_rank.xlsx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK It is interesting that Seattle is one of the few cities with an estimated population growth. Population growth for all of WA is estimated to be 60,000. Both 2021 and 2022 population for Seattle is listed as an estimate. I thought 2021 populations figures had been issued. Here is a site with 2021 population growth for all of Washington. https://usafacts.org/data/topics/people-society/population-and-demographics/our-changing-population/state/washington?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ND-DemPop&msclkid=1e461ef86b8f15bebbe57d128ff822d0
This site notes Seattle lost 0.33% population in 2022 which is contrary to the OFM estimates, and repeats the prediction that “By 2040, the larger Seattle area is expected to grow by 1.7 million people, with a total of 782,00 in Seattle proper by 2040” (which is only a few thousand more than today in Seattle). https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/seattle-wa-population I have my doubts.
I couldn’t find the data on housing starts in Seattle. Can you post that. I am not surprised that many of the permits have not been built, but don’t know how long a permit is valid in Seattle (on MI you have two years from issuance to complete construction). Are these new construction or do the permits include remodels?
My assessment for Seattle really has to do with WFH: the only impact is the loss of tax revenue, and whether Seattle raises taxes, cuts expenditures, or bonds. Other than that, population levels and housing starts are not that relevant when it comes to WFH. I have no idea how the DSA figures 75% of foot traffic has returned with a 40% occupancy rate.
Where estimated population numbers are relevant is in our regional planning. The OFM and PSRC are estimating another 1 million residents move to this region through 2044. That is nearly 50,000/year, which equals Amazon’s workforce in Seattle. Those estimates were pre-pandemic. It isn’t really whether the region loses or gains population by tiny amounts. It is that for every year we don’t add 50,000 new residents we need to add another 100,000 the next year.
It is true that growth in this region and Seattle was double the rate of growth for the two decades before 2010-2020. I guess the question is whether that rate continues for the next ten years, because I think that is the hope among some Seattleites who hope new population replaces the work commuter.
My request to the PSRC is it halt planning based on its 2050 Vision Statement that is based on pre-pandemic data until we understand population growth and allocation better. But the recent housing bills upzoning the SFH zones are so contrary to the PSRC’s fundamental vision — despite population growth — I am not sure the PSRC is relevant anymore.
As I have noted before, 2022 was supposed to be the year the new normal was determined, although OFM population estimates don’t seem to jibe with actual totals, and that is a criticism of OFM estimates: they are political. 2023 is supposed to be the year of figuring out where the tax revenue was reallocated, and balancing budgets, for agencies and cities. I don’t envy the new Seattle City Council, who will be nearly all rookies, with this difficult task.
I never said Seattle was dead although that is the common perception on the eastside, or even dying although there sure are a lot of plans to “revitalize” different parts of downtown Seattle (which the DSA counts from Sodo to north of Uptown). Any downtown core with a 40%+ office occupancy rate is not doing well.
I said Seattle had a $300 million operating budget deficit to address in 2023, and the only tax revenue source I see to do that is property tax which is required anyway to meet the levy.
Thanks, I haven’t looked at the Comprehensive Plan update yet. I need to.
“the recent housing bills upzoning the SFH zones are so contrary to the PSRC’s fundamental vision … I am not sure the PSRC is relevant anymore.”
They’re apples and oranges. The PSRC estimates future population growth and tries to channel it to a few urban growth centers. The state urban bill has smaller upzones in larger areas without regard to growth estimates, to improve the balance of large, middle, an single-family housing in more areas. The state rural bill I don’t understand its purpose and might oppose.
Right now we’re bifurcated between building large breadboxes on 20-30% of the land, single-family houses on 70-80% of the land, and hardly any missing-middle buildings because the multifamily areas are so small and it’s illegal in single-family areas. That’s what the state’s urban bill is trying to address. It’s especially important to have a missing-middle upzone in the walksheds of high-capacity transit stations and RapidRide stations and retail districts. That’s what the state urban bill does.
If both the state urban bill passes and the PSRC plan continues, then there are three possible outcomes. Both the PSRC Urban Growth Centers and the state-upzoned areas grow, but…
A. URCs reach their growth targets. This suggests the PSRC targets are too low for total housing demand.
B. URCs don’t reach their targets, and some of the units expected there are diverted to state-upzoned areas. This suggests the public wants a wider variety of housing choices, and in more locations.
C. URCs don’t reach their targets, but no diversion occurs. This suggests the PSRC targets are too high.
I’m assuming most of the actual growth in state-upzoned areas will be near existing core transit stops/multifamily areas/retail districts. You’re assuming all of it will be in remote low-density areas like Sammamish, south Mercer Island, outer Pierce County, and Chehalis. I think that’s very unlikely. Even if people are allowed to build middle housing everywhere, most of it will be near the areas I mentioned because that’s where people who want that kind of housing will want to live. They want to be near retail, and some of them want to be near transit stops, not isolated in the most remote locations.
Daniel, the housing data can be pulled from the following sites:
I don’t see 2022 as indicative of a new normal. The covid hangover is still present in the economy and people haven’t fully established long term routines and habits. China just came out of lockdown, there’s a new cold war brewing with Russia, and global supply chain is still a mess. This is all shaking out now and will likely take years to be a dependable indicator of future public investment and spending. I wouldn’t trust the previous year to be a healthy indicator for what transit and regional population growth will be over the next decades. Recovery will take time.
“I do kind of worry about the empty towers in Bellevue though.”
This “Seattle – bad, Bellevue – good” or “Bellevue’s offices will be empty” mindset misses the fact that as downtown Bellevue has grown it has become more like downtown Seattle. Highrises, check. Transit center with the most frequent buses in the Eastside going to the most areas, check. Condos, check. Apartments, check. Walkable retail, check. A central park, check.
So even if companies relocate from downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue, it’s still easier to get to them than when they were going to Eastgate and Northup Way and Issaquah — and downtown Bellevue provides a convenient place for them to locate.
Bellevue office towers won’t be ghost towns because there will always be Eastsiders who prefer to remain on the Eastside. Companies that prefer a suburban location will gravitate to downtown Bellevue instead of more far-flung areas. The other growth centers like Totem Lake and Issaquah might see an increase but I’ll believe it when I see it. The areas that will lose out are those that are neither downtowns (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond) nor growth centers. Renton is a wildcard as always.
So from the perspective of a non-driving urbanist, having jobs in downtown Bellevue is not that bad, and much better than if they were in an Eastside like it was forty years ago. That’s because as Bellevue has grown, it has inevitably become more like Seattle. The city council understands this, and has understood it for decades.
Oh yeah, I agree. I don’t think the Bellevue offices will remain empty any more than Seattle offices will. Just that Seattle also has a lot going for it despite all the doom and gloom of some our posters here, in ways that Bellevue cannot easily replicate.
And Bellevue has some things that Seattle doesn’t. Some of the things that DT often brings up – larger yards, perception of more safety in the streets downtown, etc. – are going to be appealing to some people. Even some who are happy to live in urban environments prefer living in Bellevue over Seattle for what some might consider unexpected reasons – for example, I have a friend who chose Bellevue because of the easier drive to ski areas. And it’s a drive, for him, despite his use of transit in general, because he goes early mornings on weekdays before work. Is he in the majority? No, but it’s not as simple as “Seattle has more diverse evening entertainment and tourist attractions and therefore it will always be better”.
Turns out the Regal 16 theater downtown may not be closing after all, according to the Seattle Times, who published an update to this story: https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/movies/report-regal-meridian-16-movie-theater-in-downtown-seattle-to-close/.
This was seen as more evidence that “Seattle is dying”. Now I have to wonder. Does this mean Seattle is dying, or does it mean that Harrell rescued this fragile little flower of a city just in time? Inquiring minds want to know.
Sounds like the theatre manager called the landlord’s bluff, but had to do it in the Seattle Times. I hope the employees were aware of the situation, but it seems unlikely. That sort of employment uncertainty really sucks.
I think it’s funny how many business closings are due to landlords raising rents, and yet closings get blamed on the city government as if Andrew Lewis is personally going around breaking kneecaps if lease renewals don’t include 20% rent increases.
Apparently the staff knew there was a good chance they would stay:
Basically a few news organizations jumped the gun and didn’t talk to the locals. I’m sure that has a few reporters grumbling. The Puget Sound Business Journal mentioned the closing, but noted that it was “an unconfirmed story”. I’m sure they are feeling pretty smug about that adjective.
Of the 39 cineplexes listed, only four or five appear in “urban” settings — Boston, Seattle, DC, NYC and maybe Miami Beach. The rest appear suburban.
It’s not that Seattle is “dying”. It’s that Regal is in financial trouble and the industry in general appears to be declining. After all, Covid reduced cinema-going interest and fewer new cinema-worthy movies were made in the last few years.
It’s not unlike what is happening to retail, where discretionary shopping has moved from in-store to online.
It reminds me when the right wing press obsessed about a Capitol Hill restaurant closure a few years back — ignoring the fact that a few dozen new restaurants were opening in the same year in the same neighborhood. The right wing loves to skew the truth to fit their “liberal cities are bad” agenda.
Is Chesapeake VA or Boca Raton also “dying”? Of course not!
Theaters are certainly part of the “Big Box Blues”…. retail built in custom concrete boxes than have a 40 year lifespan….. outfits like Regal or Walmart have a 30 plan for a store and when the wiring, AC and plumbing go…. they move on another brand new box store a few miles away leaving the old shell behind. Seattle isn’t nearly affected as the surrounding communities.
Looking at Seattle…. anything worth saving pretty much was built before WW2. The new “mixed use stuff” is often crap with that 30-40 year life span.
Seattle should just wave all the building fees and permits for wood frame brick clad buildings. The gold standard in building, bar none.
For what it’s worth, Regal continues to operate its cinema in the “dying downtown Portland” location, as well as the “dead crime-ridden hellscape” of Lloyd Center. The huge parking lot has a fence around it but I went by it on Saturday and there were quite a lot of people inside the building, despite the terrorism caused by having the closest parking lot closed off.
I very much like the tenor of the conversations this morning. It sounds like the folks on the blog are coming to the conclusion that smart Republicans drew from the last three elections: we no longer need to coddle our own version of Donald Trump.
We never thought you were quite _that_ bad, Tom ;)
Kidding, kidding, of course.
There’s about a dozen different comments above that are scattered around that this could be a response to, but decided against trying to sensibly string this into any of them.
Link is getting a station at NE 185th Street. That neighborhood currently looks something like this:
TriMet’s MAX has had a station at SW 185th Avenue for 25 years. The neighborhood currently looks something like this:
It should be noted that SW 185th Avenue in Washington County is really in the middle of nowhere. No designated urban centers, no shopping malls, nothing. It’s just farmland converted to residential sprawl. However, because of the MAX station it turned into dense residential sprawl.
The advantage that SW 185th has is that quite by accident, this was the one MAX line that TriMet didn’t build next to a major highway. This means it is significantly easier to get to the stations than most other MAX lines. The busy roads all run perpendicular to the MAX line through this area, so if you want to go east-west, MAX is the most direct route.
I’m not sure if there is an easy way to translate that into Link’s 185th station.
Anyway, it should be noted that Mike Orr’s vision to see density at intermediate stations certainly might happen under the right circumstances.
It should be noted the 185th station area is zoned for 7 stories. 185th will easily exceed the 3 midrise buildings clustered around 185th.
Shoreline has zoned both of its station areas exactly as Mike O advocates for – dense midrise clustered around stations in between urban centers.
I agree, AJ, the development around Shoreline/185th should easily exceed SW 185th’s, and in a shorter timeframe than 25 years. I think the impact of the more-extensive midrise zoning around Shoreline/185th outweighs the impact of the poor siting next to freeway.
It’s odd to see low density residential zoning across the street from the SW 185th station: https://tools.oregonexplorer.info/OE_HtmlViewer/Index.html?viewer=zoning&layerTheme=&scale=18055.954822&basemap=¢er=-13677814.6161%2C5703868.855999999&layers=
(Aside: what’s up with the Yosemite pdf, AJ?)
There’s also a community college building and a few ground level businesses in that SW 185th mix, but agreed. From what I have seen of Shoreline along Aurora, there should be some pretty significant buildings next to the Link station.
Lol, I was doing Yosemite research at the same time … wrong link! Meant to drop in this one: https://www.theurbanist.org/2015/03/27/shoreline-rezones-185th-street-but-holds-off-on-145th-street/
Ghlenn, exactly. Westside MAX took the right of way of the old Oregon Electric west of downtown Beaverton and turned it into a Light Rail line. Itbhadn’t seen interurbans for something like forty years and it depended on SP granting BNSF “overhead” trackage rights from Portland to Salem for their Willamette Valley service. The trackage to the south became the WES commuterctrain pathway, but still does host Portland & Western freight trains.
The beauty of Westside MAX is that it runs just about mid way between parallelling US26 West and Tualatin Valley Highway and was an established railroad right-of-way with flashers and gates at many crossings. The LR line “inherited” that absolute pre-emption, which certainly shaves ten minutes off the Beaverton-Hillsboro transit time.
The land along the railroad track was undesirable (long slow trains of squealing cars loaded with hazardous materials do not good neighbors make. So there was no adjacent suburban sprawl with nervous owners to say “STOP!” when density was proposed.
The result is a lovely ride through the countryside of Washington County, punctuated with a cluster of apartments and small businesses at every station. Near Beaverton they are replaced with huge business campuses.
It is the best example of what suburban light rail can be in the US.
Beaverton’s lack of planning is still evident some 30 years after their Laissez-faire attitude impacted potential development along the line. It took far too long for their Beaverton Round development to go anywhere. They still have that tract of land north of Beaverton Transit Center that ideally could have been the home of something. They pushed MAX too far north of their old downtown area, so you have to cross two awful highways to get to the one place in Beaverton that still has interesting stuff to go to. Sunset Transit Center has turned into a nothing because it is completely surrounded by highways and other busy roads that prevent actual transit use other than transfers.
The good news is that Shoreline has had 30 years of time to learn that Beaverton is probably the worst example on the west coast of how to plan things. They seem to be on the right track.
Does anyone have the correct link to SDOT’s most recent 6-year TIP? I can’t seem to find it on their website. Thanks.
Two headlines in today’s Seattle Times:
1. “SOUND TRANSIT SAYS IT WILL PUSH BACK AGAINST DRUG USE ON TRAINS”
“Security officers to tell offenders to exit; agency to call transit police if needed”.
This headline is the main lead on page A1. Not very good advertising for potential eastside and suburban riders if you ask me.
2. “Seattle Voters Decide Today On Housing Initiative”.
The article notes the new agency should be able to issue bonds in exchange for low-interest loans, (although these are municipal bonds so the lower rate is because they are tax free, and of course all borrowing rates have gone up). The City of Seattle would be required to provide startup funds estimated at $750,000 for the first 18 months to pay for office staff and two staff members, which sounds like swanky offices and salaries.
This headline is on page A7. If you live in Seattle be sure to vote.
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