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Last week, Amazon announced a three-day return-to-office (RTO), sparking muted fanfare among the downtown business community but backlash from its workers. Starbucks announced a similar policy several weeks back and it remains to be seen what the long-term trend will be for major employers in our region.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the post-pandemic recovery of cities and transit. Pessimists are calling this the death knell of cities as we know it while optimists envision an opportunity to reinvent our whole concept of the city. The one thing obvious to both camps is that a complete return to the pre-pandemic state is a virtual impossibility.

A successful RTO by Amazon and other employers will undoubtedly provide a short-term boost to downtown life and transit ridership. But it would be foolish for cities to hang their hat on RTO mandates. Some companies will go back mostly in-person, some will stick to mostly remote, and the rest will be somewhere in-between. A hybrid world is our most likely future state.

The silver lining is that mass remote work was likely going to happen at some point so it’s not like this is some inconceivable future that no one thought of.  That said, planners would have been graced with a much longer time scale in a pandemic-free world. That benefit has evaporated with the system shock brought on by COVID.

If the pandemic made anything egregiously obvious, it’s that American cities were just built wrong. We often cast this indictment on the suburbs but it holds equally true for downtowns. The idea that we zoned the hearts of our cities to only accommodate a flood of workers within a 10-hour period each weekday seems comical now, but it’s a reality we have to contend with.

Moving forward, there are certainly practical questions, like the viability of converting office space to residential or rightsizing transit investments. But beyond the practicalities, it’s worth looking to our friends in Europe or Asia, where dispersed density has been the model of urbanism for hundreds of years. Even if downtowns will never be the same again, their loss is every other urban neighborhood’s potential gain.

128 Replies to “Cities can’t rely on employer RTOs to recover”

  1. I’ve been thinking about it about Seattle downtown and other news articles like

    > The idea that we zoned the hearts of our cities to only accommodate a flood of workers within a 10-hour period each weekday seems comical now, but it’s a reality we have to contend with.

    One major problem as you noted is the lack of actual residential density in downtown*. Which should be corrected by encouraging much more apartment construction downtown.

    > it’s worth looking to our friends in Europe or Asia
    Yeah they don’t have an office-only downtown core.

    *Maps such as,
    Belltown/Capitol Hill/UW have much more residents living per square 100m than Seattle’s downtown core (Westlake to Pioneer Square area). This is also why downtown isn’t lively.

    1. There’s thousands of condos and apts in various stages of build right now. It takes time but more residents coming soon.

      1. I checked there’s only 2 buildings in construction 801 3RD AVE and 601 4TH AVE (regarding the downtown core area). To be fair there is more construction in Capitol Hill/Belltown but it the lack of apartments around the downtown core area isn’t changing.

    2. > it’s worth looking to our friends in Europe or Asia
      >> Yeah they don’t have an office-only downtown core.

      In general, but Hong Kong’s Central and Singapore’s Downtown Core are very office heavy and very residential-light. Both cities are also much more monocentric than other Asian cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, etc

  2. I think as a matter of public policy we obsessed and focused on peak hour commuting much more than we should have since the 1970’s. Fixed work day schedules gave way to flex-time and that evolved to just working from home more and more. Even the end of Covid won’t restore the commute surges to what we had in 2015 and certainly not what we had in 1985.

    Transit benefits because peak directional commute service is more expensive to provide. There are long return trips with empty buses. The driver work rules make it hard to schedule efficient work hours.

    Rather than merely cancel service, a savvy agency can gradually reallocate it to serve routes with service to all-day attractions like medical centers or colleges — and give up having to flood the streets with buses only at peak times to office towers as its primary service expansion strategy.

    I don’t see peak commute direction going away fully. It’s more of a gradual lessening in importance.

    Finally, it raises questions about peak-only bus or HOV lanes. They should probably become all-day eventually.

    1. “ Transit benefits because peak directional commute service is more expensive to provide.”

      I should clarify this comment.

      An agency can provide more hours of service for the same cost because peak directional commute service is more expensive to provide.

    2. The AM peak is pretty much all commuters while others are still asleep. The larger PM peak is a combination of commuters, people going to evening activities, and people returning from midday activities, all traveling simultaneously.

      1. Another difference between AM and PM peaks: Students are usually out there with commuting workers during the AM peak, but the school PM peak is earlier than the work PM peak. Combined with the non-commuters, this makes for a longer and more diverse PM peak.

      2. Some personal experience: I walk to work and almost never travel during the AM peak. But, at least once a week, I do go out in the evening and so travel during the PM peak. Across many people, the difference adds up.

  3. Here on the Eastside, I have a question about proposed, large (mostly) office developments. I’m thinking of Cloudvue, which will be one block north of the Bellevue TC. It was supposed to be three 600 foot towers. Two office, one residential. I’m also thinking about the two large projects near East Main Station. Belle Vista Place, on the site of the former Sheraton hotel, and East Main Village, on the sites of the former Red Lion and Hilton hotels. Again, the projects were going to be mostly office. What’s going to happen to those projects? Will they go ahead as planned? Will they reconfigure office/residential mix to emphasize residential? Will the cancel the projects? Will they pause the projects? I think it’s doubtful they can still build what they intended to built. Hopeful, they continue with the developments, but pivot to residential. Bellevue will be fine whether they get built or not. It will be East Link that will bear the brunt of station area projects being cancelled.

      1. Based on Bellevue developers I know most Bellevue projects have been placed on hold for 3 reasons:

        1. The investment money has dried up. Stocks and REIT shares are down, REIT redemptions are high, so they are afraid to invest in new projects, and Chinese investment has dried up.

        2. Developers want to see how office vacancies turn out in the long run. Many had assumed employers would force employees back to the office but that has been difficult.

        3. In this region the estimated future population growth looks inflated. It will take a few years to know better.

        Bellevue had hoped to steal much of its office workers from downtown Seattle. The project many are watching are the Amazon towers in Bellevue because:

        1. Amazon’s share price is way down and it makes up a large percentage of employee compensation. Shareholders are demanding efficiencies of big tech which have not been very efficiently run to boost earnings per share with declining revenues. All those very high “salaries” in the press were based upon 15%/year stock appreciation assumptions while the stock is down nearly 50%.

        2. Amazon has ordered employees back into the office three days/week and developers want to see how that works out, especially with actual compensation way down and layoffs.

        3. Amazon will allow a worker to work in either headquarters so it will be interesting to see how many eastsiders switch to Bellevue. These towers are brand new class A so if they struggle to fill up other projects will have problems. Pre-pandemic the plan was the Bellevue towers would fill with new hires. That is unlikely now, and Amazon (and all large tech) is abandoning leases like in Seattle v

        4. Amazon is redesigning its Bellevue’s office structure even before they open and that design and how much extra space it has left over will be important data. It certainly suggests Amazon will never return to in office work 5 days/week as most of the work space is communal.

        I think 2023 for sure will be a holding year for office development, maybe 2024 too due to high interest rates and sticky inflation. One ticking time bomb is the exhaustion of Covid funds for individuals along with historically high growth in credit card debt, never a good sign when 2/3 of the economy is consumer driven. Economists keep predicting a recession but the consumers keep spending borrowed money, probably a deeper reaction to the pandemic and closures we don’t yet understand.

      2. The major office blocks in Bellevue are on pause, waiting on Amazon to sort itself out, but at the rest of the station areas development seems to be proceeding at a typical pace:

        It might be a bummer of a time if you are a land owner hoping to flip a parcel for a profit, but the rate of midrise development likely isn’t impacted unless high end apartment rents start to fall.

    1. “It will be East Link that will bear the brunt of station area projects being cancelled.”

      But the larger Eastside around them still exist and still needs good regional transit. It should have been built in the 1970s with Forward Thrust to guide the Eastside’s growth and hopefully make transit and walkability more popular. Now that the Eastside is much larger, it needs it all the more, regardless of whether these office buildings are delayed or underused or converted into something else. Either the population will continue to increase, in which case the buildings will eventually be filled, or the population will decrease, in which case it will be a larger issue beyond transit. In either case future generations will be glad East Link exists, and they’ll wonder how we got along without it.

      This doesn’t apply as much to the much longer-distance extensions like Everett and Tacoma, but Bellevue-Redmond is within the sweet spot of such a line, with a 40-45 minute travel time between downtown Redmond and Westlake.

    2. Agree – I think they will either pivot to residential or wait for Amazon to shake out. They may also shift to other forms of commercial, just as lab space, but that harder for high-rise (in Bel-Red, like SLU, some midrise office blocks could shift to lab space)

    3. I would expect some proposed office tower projects to become residential tower projects.

      Just look at Canadian cities! Given their populations, they have way more residential towers per capita. A place like Edmonton has a metro population 1/4 the size of ours and has many residential towers. The same is true for Vancouver although it’s at about 60-70%. Plus, once a unit is high enough, the mountainous views will be spectacular!

      I wouldn’t forget about hotel towers either. Remote working could induce more work hotel travel.

      A building with a hotel on floors up to 10-15 and condos above that sound like a very appealing construction strategy.

      1. A lot of those residential high rises in downtown Canadian cities are Chinese investment properties and unoccupied.

      2. @SLUer

        > A lot of those residential high rises in downtown Canadian cities are Chinese investment properties and unoccupied.

        While there are definitely a lot of Chinese investment and residents, they are definitely occupied.
        > Vancouver’s vacancy rate drops to under 1%

        I’m not sure why this falsehood that there’s lots of empty apartments/condo’s keeps being perpetuated. And part of the reason for so much investment is precisely because of the shortage of houses/apartments ensures they are worth much more.

      3. Vacancy rate and unoccupied mean different things. Vacant means there’s no registered tenant. Unoccupied means the tenant doesn’t live there. Cities like Vancouver, New York, and London have a problem with foreign tycoons buying up properties as trophies or to park money in a democratic country, with no intention of living in them or renting them out.

      4. @Mike Orr

        Vacancy rate typically includes unoccupied, though perhaps they calculate it differently in Canada. Though regardless that rate for Vancouver is much lower than other Canadian cities at 3~4 percent or American cities at 3 percent for major metros.

        The statistics do not support the idea that people are just buying condos and leaving them empty for years at a time. I fear the idea just seems politically easier to sell versus our cities haven’t upzoned enough relative to the job/population demand.

        > Cities like Vancouver, New York, and London have a problem with foreign tycoons buying up properties

        They buy them precisely because there is a shortage of housing from the constrained zoning and the shortage ensures the houses have a high value in the future, the cause and effect is opposite of what is implied.

      5. From a business standpoint, buying up units with no intention of ever renting them out doesn’t make much sense. Whatever your return is if you don’t that way, it’s going to be higher if you do rent it out. And if you don’t like dealing with tenants, there are plenty of property management companies happy to do all of the work for you, and even with their hefty fees, still leaves you financially better off than leaving the units perpetually vacant.

        A perpetually vacant unit is also bad from a maintenance perspective – if anything goes wrong, such as a leaky water heater, you will have no idea, possibly for years. If there’s a tenant, they will report it, and you will get it fixed.

        The only way I can possibly see keeping a unit long-term vacant making financial sense is if the city imposes some form of rent control. Meaning that if you accept a tenant now and expect market rents to rise quickly in the future, you will be barred by law from raising the rent for your unit to match the market rents, which in turn, detracts from the value of the unit and the price it would sell for. Keeping the unit vacant would guarantee that, whatever the market rent is at the time of sale, a future buyer would be able to charge that, thus avoiding the rent control law. This is a good example of how well meaning progressive ideas so often come with unintended consequences. But, in Vancouver in particular, I don’t think rent control exists, so that wouldn’t be it.

      6. @WL,

        Just because it is not a problem now, it does not mean that it was not a problem in the past.

        As you can see, about five years ago the number of unoccupied properties was about 30% higher, and thus perhaps high enough to be a concern.

        To flip your political comment around, I fear that the idea that zoning isn’t sufficient to fill demand is just easier to swallow for a particular political class than the idea that people might be sitting on property for whatever reason.

        Some more articles on the same topic:

        It is worth noting this bit from the Vancouver Sun article:

        “During the same period in Toronto there has been a 33 per cent increase from 5.6 per cent to 7.4 per cent in these empty or occupied by not usual resident dwellings. The shift has been a 40 per cent increase from 66,128 to 92,346 units. For the census metropolitan area of Toronto, the shift has been a 33 per cent increase from 99,236 to 131,732 units.”

        This to the asdf2’s point that no one would keep units empty – empirical evidence suggests otherwise, of course.

      7. @Anonymouse

        In the same article:
        > The Empty Homes Tax first came into effect in 2017, and the City says that as the tax is reaching the end of its fifth year, the amount of vacant properties in Vancouver is now at 1,398, which is 36% less compared to when it was first implemented.

        Even if every ‘vacant’ property was actually rented out it would basically be a drop in the ocean versus the housing shortage Vancouver has. I’m actually kinda astonished Vancouver’s vacancy rate is this low for a major city area to only have around a thousand units vacant.

        > During the same period in Toronto there has been a 33 per cent increase from 5.6 per cent to 7.4 per cent in these empty or occupied by not usual resident dwellings.

        You’ve reversed the implications, a higher vacancy rate is actually usually a sign of lower rent not higher. And a lot of those are just apartments in between cleanings/next renter. For US many cities the average vacancy rate hovers around 11%, for Vancouver’s vacancy rate to be slow low isn’t evidence of that being good.

        For Toronto that is a separate issue, it is talking about airbnb’s

        > The census releases a measure it calls “private dwellings occupied by usual residents.” By taking the census count of the total number of dwellings and subtracting that number, Yan determines the number of dwellings that are either empty or occupied by “not usual” residents.
        > It’s a set that includes units used as short-term rentals on platforms such as Airbnb or as a pied-a-terre or second home for people who permanently live elsewhere. There might also be units in new developments that are counted as empty because people are moving in.

        This is more about conversion of condos/houses into Airbnb’s but again isn’t really being left ’empty’.

        > This to the asdf2’s point that no one would keep units empty – empirical evidence suggests otherwise, of course.

        No empirical evidence shows over and over that property owners like to rent out their assets rather than them sitting and losing money.

      8. A stable vacancy rate where rents neither rise nor fall beyond inflation is 5-10%. Some sources say 5%, others 10%, so we can just assume it’s somewhere in that range. Seattle’s vacancy rate fell to 3% for most of the 2000s and 2010s, and sometimes to 2% in some neighborhoods, and that coincided with rapidly rising rents. San Francisco’s rate was even lower, at 2%, so rents escalated even faster there. San Francisco and Silicon Valley have a bigger problem with blocking infill development than Seattle and Pugetopolis have, so that 2% rate led to $3000 rents and $1.5 million houses in the 2000s.

        Vancouver in 2000 was amazingly cheap. I went up there monthly between 1998 and 2001, and 13th-floor West End condos with spectacular views were going for $75K. I thought about buying one. Ten years later that had completely reversed and Vancouver was the most expensive city in North America. I remember quoting a condo price to a New York friend, and he said, “There’s nothing that expensive in Manhattan.” I don’t know what Vancouver’s vacancy rate was, but my Canadian friends speculated it was partly laundering BC Bud money and absentee foreign owners.

        World-class cities like New York, London, and Vancouver are prone to tycoons buying choice trophy houses for vanity, or to stay there a week every year or two. Vancouver may seem not in that class, but it’s “the Los Angeles of Canada”, and is on the Pacific Rim, and Canada is immigration-friendly for those with money or skills. Tycoons with private jets and yachts may not care if they miss out on rental income; that’s so unimportant.

        Parking money in empty condos/houses is a somewhat different phenomenon. If your money is from an autocratic or coup-prone country, losing 20% in a real-estate loss or by not having renters is better than losing 100% if the government expropriates your money or hyperinflation happens.

        It’s unclear how widespread the absent-owner problem is, since third parties can only tell if a unit is unoccupied by looking in the windows and guessing. Some say it’s widespread in Vancouver. The BC and Canadian governments have reacted with a ban on foreign ownership, or requiring a waiting period for foreign ownership, or taxing empty units.

        It’s even less clear how much this is happening in Seattle. I assume not much. Seattle is not New York or San Francisco, or “the Los Angeles of the US”. There doesn’t seem to be an inordinate number of empty units, beyond those expected when a new building opens. But I could be wrong. What I hear more of is rich Chinese families buying Eastside houses or condos to get their children into Eastside pubic schools (some of the best in the country) or in-state tuition at UW. But in that case they’re actually living in the units, so they’re not empty.I also hear that restrictions on foreign ownership are unconstitutional under Washington’s or the US constitution, so we may be stuck with limitations created in the 1800s for a rural state with low housing prices.

      9. Both Edmonton and Vancouver have had 8-10 story residential buildings for several decades. Sure there maybe foreign investors recently driving up prices — but a healthy market for those buildings has existed before the British lease on Hong King ran out.

  4. “If the pandemic made anything egregiously obvious, it’s that American cities were just built wrong. We often cast this indictment on the suburbs but it holds equally true for downtowns. The idea that we zoned the hearts of our cities to only accommodate a flood of workers within a 10-hour period each weekday seems comical now, but it’s a reality we have to contend with.”

    The one Eastside downtown, and Link station area that was built to not only survive no RTO, but to thrive, is downtown Redmond. I hope someday the blog does a post on downtown Redmond and its Link station area.

    1. Years ago folks on the blog would occasionally write a feature about a neighborhood that had a Link station. I agree, downtown Redmond would be a good one. It does seem to have a fairly diverse set of uses.

  5. “If the pandemic made anything egregiously obvious, it’s that American cities were just built wrong. We often cast this indictment on the suburbs but it holds equally true for downtowns. The idea that we zoned the hearts of our cities to only accommodate a flood of workers within a 10-hour period each weekday seems comical now, but it’s a reality we have to contend with.”

    I think that is a stretch. First of all, not all downtowns are built the same. KUOW has a very good series: In one of them, they reference this article, which ranks downtowns by office space: Some cities are more vulnerable than others.

    But consider the alternatives. What if San Fransisco *didn’t* become so dependent on its offices. Those offices would be even more spread out, to various places in the region. This is a disaster from a transportation standpoint. It is one of the biggest problems in transportation that is very difficult to reverse. Basically, in the 1950s we transitioned to big downtown cities surrounded by suburbs, and people were expected to drive to work. In the 1980s, we added office parks in the suburbs, and people were expected to drive to work. Traffic increased going every which way. To keep up, existing freeways expanded. The thing is a giant, very expensive mess, that is very difficult to maintain. While the 1950s model is not a good one, at least it has some hope for decent transit. You take the bus or train into the city. That scales. But serving the far flung office parks spread out over a vast region does not.

    That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be more housing and other activities close to downtown. In the case of Seattle, there is. About 100,000 people live downtown, which is why we are in the middle of that graph. But it also depends on where you draw the lines for downtown. Include First Hill, South Lake Union and Uptown, and you’ve got a lot of residential, medical and other uses that are more diverse. Extend to Capitol Hill and that increases even more. Some call it downtown, others don’t. There is no question that we should have more diverse uses downtown, and yes, we can blame the suburban experiment for that too. The malls killed a lot of downtown retail (now Amazon killed the malls). Arenas and stadiums were built in the suburbs (fortunately, we don’t have that problem). We still have the symphony and opera house downtown (or downtown-ish in the case of the latter). As that KUOW article pointed out, Seattle has actually become far less dependent on office buildings than in years past.

    What makes this era particularly hard is our software dependency. It is especially well suited for office work. In contrast, a lot of business and other types of work are based on contact. You can remotely talk to a lawyer, but you would rather have a face-to-face talk. Negotiating a deal is also done best in person — maybe over lunch downtown. Those types of jobs have probably returned at a much higher level than coding.

    It is also clear that no one really knows what will happen in the future. For example, they mention that some Tacoma building have transitioned to housing. There are technical limitations to that (it doesn’t work for every building) but one thing holding back Seattle is that our office space is still fairly expensive. Huh? How can there be so much in the way of office vacancy, but still high prices? The simple answer is that folks expect a rebound. Or maybe more of what Amazon has (offices used sparingly, but still used). Whether any of that happens or not is a different matter. If the offices don’t get filled, then prices will drop, and other uses become a lot more attractive. Of course that takes a while.

    1. Oh, and there is another aspect of most American cities that stems from the suburban experiment. I grew up in Seattle, and remember when someone mentioned living downtown. My first thought was “ugh”. Not because of the homeless (although we called them “hobos” back then) or the crime, or too many people. It was just way too many cars. Every street has a ton of cars. It is as if each street is its own little Aurora, but with slightly slower speed limits. Why? Because without all that, suburbanites wouldn’t be able to get into the city. By “suburbanites I include much of Seattle”.

      Seattle has slowly but surely been making progress. That article mentioned Belltown as the first neighborhood which has made the transition (and basically a model for the rest of downtown). There are plenty of office towers, but there is plenty of housing, nightlife, you name it. It is also one of the more pedestrian friendly areas of downtown. It isn’t alone in that respect, as more and more of downtown has transitioned to be more bike and pedestrian friendly.

      1. Reducing the number of “car sewer” thoroughfares through downtown Seattle and adding more street level amenities is the way to go. Seattle should not assume that it will ever need the amount of space for suburban car commuters as it did in 2019. Plus, downtown has a relatively new bypass tunnel and waterfront highway to absorb most of the thru traffic that doesn’t just stick to I-5. Traffic congestion is back, but traffic patterns have changed. If the streetscape is kept as is, who would want to live in any office tower conversions when the waterfront, Belltown, “Uptown” ect have so many better options? For example, tearing up 5th Ave. for a shallow cut-and-cover Link line is fair game–that traffic has largely evaporated, and it can be rebuilt as the linear park that Seattle missed out on due to the waterfront bait-and-switch–that’s something people would want to live next to.

    2. “We often cast this indictment on the suburbs but it holds equally true for downtowns.”

      “not all downtowns are built the same”

      The indictment is correct even if there are exceptions. “The suburban experiment” arose at the same time as single-use zoning. Planners got enamored with abstract models of “housing here”, “retail there”, theaters there”, “government there”, medical there” — and “offices there”. It was like creating Plato’s Forms on the ground, as if people would contemplate the beauty of different uses as they traveled from one district to another. Never mind that mixed districts had worked well for hundreds of years, or that humans’ built-in mobility mode is two feet, not an SOV.

      San Francisco is one of the cities that had grown to a large enough size before WWII to resist suburbanification to some extent. Seattle wasn’t as lucky, but it was luckier than cities lake Raleigh or San Jose or Dayton where the city was almost all suburban.

      San Francisco is hard to describe because it has so many unique things. It was the “capital of the West Coast”, the “Venice of the West”, the financial/banking capitol of the West Coast, the city with Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, the city where people go to the opera (compared to earlier Los Angeles), the center of post-WWII tolerance, Haight-Ashbury, the gay capital, “the place where urbanism still lives”, and finally the second wave of tech companies. San Francisco offices must be understood in the context of all that.

      Seattle’s jobs are also unusually concentrated downtown for an American city. Its downtown didn’t decay as far as some other cities, and it was large enough that it wasn’t completely suburbanized. Other parts of Seattle like north of 65th Street and east of 20th NE were built up in the 50s, so they’re more suburban. I read in the 2000s that downtown had some 10% of the region’s jobs. The express buses from everywhere to downtown also helped with that. We complain about the shortchanging of all-day service, but the expresses did probably contribute to keeping jobs downtown and keeping people on transit. King County is like tenth in the country in transit use per capita, ahead of cities like Portland. The reason why is complicated: it has to do with population size, geographic barriers that cause bottlenecks, the number of jobs downtown, the environmentalist tendency, wanting to be like San Francisco for so many decades, etc.

      There’s a definite office/government ghetto between Union Street and Yesler Way. The exceptions are only a few: the library, the symphony and art museum (built after the office-only wave had crested), the condos on 1st Avenue (ditto). But it’s still overwhelmingly office and becomes a ghost town after 5pm, at least east of 1st Avenue. Most of the restaurants also close at 3pm, so you can’t eat there evenings or weekends even if you want to.

    3. No, the longer remote work continues, the more jobs it gobbles up. FaceTime a lawyer instead of meeting them? I’m more of a meet face to face person…. but I’m in my 50s. Younger people want to do absolutely everything on their phone.

      Ten years ago it possible to go to the offices of a Big Healthcare Insurance company and actually talk face to face to your customer service rep. Now companies don’t even want phone calls, just text us them problem. Remote life is just the way it’s going to be from now on.

      1. To a certain extent that’s true but working in an office setting downtown I know that in person meetings are still preferred as they are considered more personal.

      2. WFH for a small firm in downtown Seattle. Pretty much most of the staff, legal assistants and paralegals, have WFH since the pandemic started. As a matter of fact, some of them who lived in the city moved out of state to other cities. Plus we have new hires who WFH out of state. The attorneys are the ones who come in to the office. While many do so, I don’t think they are in 5 days a week, but are hybrid. It’s fine for staff members because they are set up to file online whatever it is that the attorneys want filed and can email or face time with other staff and attorneys as needed.

        I think this works well for staff and the firm. For the ones that still live in the Seattle area, it saves them the headache of commuting, particularly if they are coming from places like the Eastside, Snohomish County, and far south of King County, with longer time consuming commutes that complicate their ability to deal with homelife, e.g., child rearing and child care. The firm can expand the playing field of staffing by hiring out of state and not have to compete as hard for in city talent with the big dog law firms that can pay more. Since staff has their productivity tracked, it motivates people to continue to work hard to keep the WFH “privilege” going.

  6. One caveat about RTO is now that there has been a trend of more “work from home” taking place at a “third place” outside of home. Better internet, fewer distractions, more explicit separation of work/life. Add some amenities like gym and shower space and bike storage, shared kitchen space for meal prep–even more attractive. There is probably a sizeable market for flexible use co-working office space, as opposed to the model of a fixed amount of office space being dedicated to a specific company’s workers. And it would be much easier for office towers to transition to co-working space than residential. I wouldn’t necessarily drive into downtown for such an amenity (driving in to an downtown office complex is the absolute worst form of commuting that people dread!), but I would definitely take the light rail in a few days out of the week.

    1. WeWork is struggling. People who WFH don’t want to get dolled up for work and leave the kids to commute to a strange place to work remotely. Wi-Fi from home today is just as good. If they do get dolled up and waste the time to commute they will go into the office. Most employers with a surfeit of office space don’t want to pay for a “third place”, which usually means a vibrant retail area.

      WFH has however been a benefit to local lunch spots and bars because workers working from home do like to get out of the house.

      I don’t think Amazon’s call to work in office three days/week will be a big deal, although in practice it might end up 2-2.5 days/week, especially in a vibrant area like Bellevue Way with 1100 parking stalls that will allow employees to park in for free.

      I am sure the local businesses will welcome the extra revenue from Amazon workers shopping and drinking after work. The key is how vibrant and safe is the retail within walking distance of the office. If the worker has to drive to it after work they will just continue home. We eastsiders like walkable retail vibrancy too. Just not 5 days/week.

      1. Yeah, I’m betting all the workers Amazon laid off work are in Seattle, right? because if they’re driving to Bellevue Way twice a week with free parking, Amazon doesn’t have to pay the “Jumpstart Tax” right?

      2. According to The NY Times WeWork is at 72% occupancy. It lost $2 billion in 4th quarter 2019, but that was under a bad CEO. Stock value has gone from $47 billion to $8 billion which I would say is high. The key for WeWork is to exit the high leases it executed pre-pandemic and negotiate lower lease rates in buildings with low occupancy, and to be more careful it can fill the space it leases. No building can survive at 72% occupancy.

        Another problem for WeWork is pre-pandemic one of its selling points was better Wi-Fi than at home, which is no longer true.

        Personally I don’t see the model post pandemic if employers can’t get employees back to the office and the sublease market is awash with space. Maybe for independent contractors but that would only be a few hours/days per week.

        I would steer clear of the stock.

  7. Thanks for the article Sherwin. I thought your comment that WFH was likely to occur in the future at some point, albeit more gradually, was very interesting.

    When we talk about the benefits of dispersing a downtown core like radiation we need to know what we are dispersing (because a lot of the housing was already dispersed which is the ultimate problem with WFH), whether that benefits outer, less dense areas, whether they want it, and what it does to the city losing the office employment.

    So much of this region was zoned before there was a GMA (1991) or a good understanding of the goals of zoning. Since this was the west the paradigm was plat every inch and zone it for some kind of development because “land” was seen as a source of wealth and ownership, no matter how remote.

    Zoning 6500 sq miles with a tiny relative population was always going to cause issues, as Ross notes. It was the ports and railroads that first formed Everett, Seattle and Tacoma density. Then the airport and I-5. Zoning that allowed increased height and density in these urban zoned areas were the only walls of the swimming pool to condense commercial and especially retail, along with a small population.

    In the beginning regional zoning was traditional: segregate by use and use different regulatory limits to define those zones. Then somewhere along the line we went to “urban villages” (really just suburbia) and the PSRC’s vision of self contained clusters. Next thing we know the Eastside has retail and offices spread all over the areas. The one thing that contained the sprawl was the SFH zoning because of its strict use zoning.

    Then came the mixed use craze by urbanists, and expanding those boundaries that removed the walls of the swimming pool with some naive vision of corner grocery stores like the 1950’s when a corner grocery store in Medina needs local subsidies. Meanwhile small town councils chased the development dollars because of the 1% cap on the property levy, but at least in their town centers because the SFH zones were the walls of the swimming pool. So at least little cities like MI got some retail density and multi-family housing.

    The first effect for Seattle of the dispersion is loss of tax revenue when larger cities deal with most of the social issues. Surrounding cities will gladly accept the dispersed tax revenue but not the social costs that in part they blame on Seattle policies. Just like large tech companies Seattle will have to get WAY more efficient, and begin cuts, and there is a ton of ideological fat in the city budget.

    The second is the loss of retail density and vibrancy. No one pines for more office towers and work commuters. They pine for what those buildings and commuters funded.

    Ross is correct that dispersing retail and commercial (because much of the housing is already dispersed to the suburbs) makes it nearly impossible to serve these areas except by car, and Link IMO will do poorly in these areas. That is why transit use is down so heavily in these suburban areas. Folks are driving. There is plenty zoning capacity for housing in these areas, but it is expensive, without good transit, and not a lot of middle class jobs. We don’t believe the destruction of downtown Seattle by bad policy should mean that is dispersed to our SFH zones. Fix downtown instead.

    True vibrant urbanism is one of the rarest and most precious things. It requires safe streets, good transit, law and order, lots of money, lots of people on the street, retail, arts, restaurants, and for Seattle a dramatic waterfront. Seattle struggled for decades to create retail vibrancy, and was nearly there until progressive council policies and riots killed it again.

    There is no other area in this region that can possibly have true urbanism, certainly not Everett or Tacoma that are too poor. If you think Capitol Hill or Ballard are urbanism you have simply dumbed down the definition. This idea that I live someplace (like I do on MI) where I can meet my bare daily needs is pointless if I have a car. I want something more from “urbanism”.

    If it isn’t in downtown Seattle it won’t be anywhere, and we will have finally begun to disperse retail and commercial and housing to all 6500 sq miles, hardly a successful outcome for urbanists when the GMA had hoped to reverse course.

    The Eastside doesn’t want that kind of urbanism, on the Eastside, even in Bellevue. We don’t want the Seattle experiment on the Eastside with an endless string of awful mayors and council members who were too busy to properly manage a city. Don’t disperse that shit.

    The original demarcation of housing and local schools on the Eastside and commercial/retail urbanism in downtown Seattle worked well, although the commute got worse. Now I guess we have to create our own “urbanism” on the Eastside. It ain’t great urbanism but I guess that is all there is. But we don’t want the detritus of Seattle dispersed to us. That does not benefit us at all.

    So be sure to define what you are referring to by dispersion and benefits. I am not sure the Eastside needs or wants anything from Seattle today. We certainly don’t need more offices or residents, and we really didn’t need the additional tax revenue the Seattle Council seems intent on dispersing our way.

    I can’t see any way the decline and dispersion of downtown Seattle to the surrounding suburbs (including in Seattle that are simply incorporated suburbs) is a benefit. Harrell’s election and the council races in 2023 will reflect the fact the SFH zones don’t want failed urbanism dispersed to their lovely neighborhoods. They want the mayor and council to fix the downtown they think prior mayors, councils, and class warfare progressives unnecessarily broke. We think downtown Seattle should at least look like downtown Bellevue today, or at least Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah and so far, even with WFH. If U Village can do downtown Seattle should be able to do it.

    So expect a lot of resistance to “dispersion”. We don’t need the extra residents, don’t want to change our zoning, and don’t trust the same folks that broke downtown coming to the Eastside. We want you to fix downtown Seattle so we actually want to go there, which means obvious and reasonably priced parking like U Village.

    1. My question is…. why should Seattle grow at all? Whenever the pro-Sound Transit crowd is presented with crazy high projects costs, the answer is always the same. “But we’re going to have a million more people in Puget Sound!”

      Population growth isn’t written in stone. We don’t live in the old USSR where the State tells people where to live. Our population and growth patterns are driven 100% by the free market. People love Seattle and want to move there…. big tech loved Seattle and brought in high paying jobs. Seattle has been a free market boom town!

      Changing the zoning of Seattle neighborhoods might also end up changing their free market value. What makes Seattle a great place is owning a house in Wallingford with a yard and still being able to be part of the City. That’s worth 2 million dollars to people…. start tearing down houses and slamming up apartments? The market may change.

      I think many young urbanists want to change Seattle so they can afford to live there…. but those changes might kill off what they love about Seattle in the first place.

      1. > My question is…. why should Seattle grow at all? Whenever the pro-Sound Transit crowd is presented with crazy high projects costs, the answer is always the same. “But we’re going to have a million more people in Puget Sound!”. Population growth isn’t written in stone.

        Why not the opposite? I don’t understand why is it assumed that zoning must be set in stone. And this strict zoning is also the complete opposite of a free market.

        > Changing the zoning of Seattle neighborhoods might also end up changing their free market value.

        The Bay Area has already shown what happens when you don’t upzone. San Francisco doesn’t upzone hoping Daly City does it, Daly City refuses hoping San Bruno does etc… all the way down till you’re at San Jose.

        > I think many young urbanists want to change Seattle so they can afford to live there…. but those changes might kill off what they love about Seattle in the first place.

        Building 3/4 story buildings instead of single story buildings isn’t going to kill off Seattle. Also I find it kind of amusing you chose Wallingford as an example considering much of the restaurants and housing there are grandfathered under current zoning, it wouldn’t have been legal to build much of it.

        > That’s worth 2 million dollars to people…. start tearing down houses and slamming up apartments?

        How many people can afford to own a 2 million dollar house versus townhouses /condos. On an individual neighborhood level it might seem okay to say no to development, but it becomes a problem when every neighborhood vetos it — and then every city in the metro area vetos it.

      2. If nothing else, we have much more sustainable access to clean water than most other western states. What happens when Lakes Mead and Powell and other reservoirs go completely dry?

      3. The Colorado River issue is because CA has senior water rights and refuses to increase its water storage capacity (dams). CA is getting record snowfall and the winter rain storms dropped 22 TRILLION gallons, but most washed out to sea.

        Most of the other compact states with junior water rights have taken great steps to reduce water consumption. Meanwhile CA continues to grow almonds and rice.

        The federal gov. is getting ready to usurp CA’s water rights and reduce its water share. The cost of water will go up and usage down, and the $8 billion residents have voted for to build dams but goes toward environmentalism will go toward dams.

        When it comes to the Cedar River shed there is no filtration system because water levels rarely get low enough. If they did and a filtration system was required by law our water prices would see a big jump in price.

      4. Guessing where Seattle will be 20 or 50 years from now is a fools errand. The idea that people will come here because of our natural resources ignores the fact they continue to move to areas like Phoenix, and away from areas like the Great Lakes region. I read somewhere that there won’t be climate migration — there will be climate refugees. In other words, people won’t just move from Phoenix because the water is expensive, or it is too damn hot all the time. But there will be people who move from Florida because their home is underwater. Most will just stay put, and put up with it.

        What we do know is that lots and lots of people want to move into Seattle, and there aren’t enough places for them to live. That explains why housing costs are too high. This is a problem now, not twenty years from now. If we liberalize the various restrictions and build more housing, then a lot more people will move into the city. Many will come from other parts of the country, but many will come from the suburbs. That is because many suburbs are attractive only because they are cheaper. I’m not talking about Mercer Island, I’m talking places like Kent or Lynnwood. Thus given current demand, we are a regulation change away from a lot more urban housing. Whether the same thing happens in the suburbs is tougher to say. A lot depends on how much the regulations change, and thus how much can be built where demand is high (in Seattle itself, and a few higher end surrounding suburbs).

      5. Our population and growth patterns are driven 100% by the free market.

        Wait, what??? The zoning means it is not a free market. A free market, by its very definition, would not have zoning restrictions. The more restrictive, the less free. I live in a house that is zoned single family. I am not free to replace my house with an apartment, no matter how small. That is not a free market.

        Changing the zoning of Seattle neighborhoods might also end up changing their free market value. What makes Seattle a great place is owning a house in Wallingford with a yard and still being able to be part of the City. That’s worth 2 million dollars to people…. start tearing down houses and slamming up apartments? The market may change.

        And yet the places with lots of apartments (e. g. Capitol Hill) remain extremely popular. Places that used to be largely single family homes (e. g. Ballard) are extremely popular as well. I can’t think of any part of the city that has become less popular as it has grown.

        I think many young urbanists want to change Seattle so they can afford to live there…. but those changes might kill off what they love about Seattle in the first place.

        I doubt it. Most are not attracted to neighborhoods because there are single family homes there. I’m not saying people don’t want to own a home; I’m saying they don’t find those places any more attractive than other places. Magnolia is nice, but not nicer than Wallingford. Unless, of course, you want a view. What makes Seattle attractive (to many) is jobs, schools, great outdoor options for a major city, and a fairly good climate (compared to most of the country). Consider the west side of Magnolia. West of 36th, it is all zoned for single family homes. But you can also walk to the beach. Being close to Discovery Park is especially attractive. If the houses became apartments, they would be extremely popular, and few would miss the old houses. They would love it if it became more urban — if you didn’t have to walk a mile to get to the nearest grocery store, or farther to get to a restaurant or bar. They would be thrilled if the buses ran more than every half hour, and took a more direct route to downtown, or connected to Ballard. If the city allowed it, Magnolia would be extremely popular, with thousands of new apartments, or row houses.

        I get why you find single family homes attractive. I do too, to a certain extent. But what is especially attractive is not the particular form, but the variety. Places like Wallingford that changed over the years. The very rules that are meant to preserve what some find attractive makes the city less attractive. Cities must change — otherwise they become quite boring.

      6. RossB

        Back in the 1990s I was part of what made Seattle unaffordable … due to the huge amount of tech money rolling in, every cheap place to live on Capitol Hill and other desirable neighborhoods was either torn down or remodeled from the studs up. That’s the free market at work, flipping affordable older units into shiny new yuppie housing. You’re Welcome! :)

        There’s no empty land in Seattle, so in order to build anything, something must be torn down. Whatever is built, there just is no way the new stuff is more affordable than what got torn down. That’s the free market.

        Some of the trouble on this blog is I think people don’t understand the basic 30 year mortgage. Let’s say I buy myself a house…. or better yet a duplex with a standard 30 year mortgage. I rent one side to you and the rent is $1000 a month. Maybe we live there 10 years and I keep the rent for you pretty low… you’re good tenant… so after 10 years you’re paying $1200… your life is good, right?

        If I sell that duplex, you’re fucked. Because the new owners have a new 30 mortgage for double what mine was. That puts your new rent at $2000 a month to pay for your half. It’s not greed, it’s not rocket science, it’s just math.

        There’s no way to buy houses for 1-2 million, tear them down and build anything that looks like affordable housing. The amount of money borrowed on a redevelopment pushes the mortgage/rent/nut… whatever you want to call it out of reach of most of us.

        Look at this way…. if a buy a million dollar house and bulldoze it and build 10 units on the lot… there’s a $150k cost per unit for land/utilities/permits… that pushes the total cost per unit to something like 300-400k each? In reality the numbers get much, much higher.

        And I’m not obsessed with owning a house in Seattle…. but there are plenty of people who are. Willing to pay 2+ million even.

      7. There’s no empty land in Seattle, so in order to build anything, something must be torn down.

        Yeah, sure, but there are plenty of lots that are mostly just empty land. Look at this house, very close to my house: $870,000 for a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house. Yowzer. Keep in mind, the neighborhood is not special. No great parks, no sidewalks; this ain’t Wallingford or Ballard. The only reason that house is going for that much is because of the land. The lot will be subdivided. It is zoned for 7,200 SFH, and the lot is 17,000, so they will split it into two lots (they have already started the paperwork). So that means two very big lots. Chances are, they will bulldoze the house and put up two McMansions. Again, this is not a fancy Seattle neighborhood — quite the opposite. But it doesn’t cost that much more to build a really big house than a small one.

        Now consider these houses: Similar neighborhood, bigger house, yet cheaper. Still not cheap, simply because they don’t allow that kind of housing in most of the city.

        Each of the houses in the second example take up around 1,000 square feet of land. That means that if it was zoned for it, they could build around 15 units with space left over in that first example. Fifteen versus two.

        Houses are being torn down, left and right. Sometimes they subdivide, and add another house or two; sometimes they just replace the tiny house with a bigger one. What is clear though, is that they are always building as much density as is legally possible. This pushes up the cost. Instead of 15 homes, you have 2. If they change the zoning, you will see a lot more townhouses. This means a lot more places for people to live. This causes the prices to drop.

        Eventually you reach lower limits. To build something you have to consider the cost of land, the cost of construction, the value of the existing structure and what you can get for the new structures. Land prices are a bit more complicated. Those townhouses are pretty expensive because the land was expensive. A big reason it was expensive was because it was one of the few places in the city where such development was even possible. Thus for land like that, the price goes down if we allow townhouses everywhere. Land like that becomes less special. You still have the value of the existing structure, but for much of the city, that ain’t squat (as I wrote before, houses are being torn down left and right). Thus you reach an equilibrium point that is much closer to the cost of construction. Instead of $640,000 thousand for those town houses, they sell for $400,000 and the developer still makes money. Old ones sell for 300K, maybe less.

        But this is just townhouses. What if the townhouses are actually skinny duplexes. The construction costs go up, but not by that much. You’ve doubled the amount of units, and the breakeven point for developers is much lower. You could sell duplexes for around $250K a unit, and probably still make a decent profit. This is for a brand new condo — unheard of in Seattle. That puts downward price pressure on everything.

        What is true of townhouses is true of apartments. Go back to that first house, and consider how many condos can be built on a 17,000 square foot lot. Now consider that my neighborhood has a bunch of lots that are similar. My house is on a lot that was originally zoned 25,000, but got subdivided. My house sits on a 9,000 square foot lot, and it is nothing special, really. I’ve been focused mainly on the big lots, but even many of the lots that have been subdivided already are pretty damn big. This is a middle-class neighborhood (at least it used to be). When I moved in, it was common to see cars on blocks in people’s yards. Most of the houses are relatively small. The big question is whether they will be slowly converted to really big houses, or slowly converted to middle class housing again.

        Oh, and back to “building to the limits of the zoning rules”, I’ve noticed a lot of triplexes going up. These aren’t officially called triplexes, but they consist of a house, a separate smaller house, and an attached unit to the big house. The proportions are always about the same. These are not add-ons, these are from the ground up (after the bulldozed whatever was there before). It makes no sense from a developer standpoint, until you understand the zoning. They are simply adding as many units as possible. The fact that a bizarre type of construction is common just demonstrates the huge demand for housing in the region, and the perverse effect that zoning has on it. If you liberalize the zoning code, we would see a more organic, normal type of development.

        Eventually the various cost pressures will come into play. Wealthy people will outbid the middle class. This means that a lot that could contain a bunch of apartments or town houses is nothing but a really big house. This happens in New York, when people buy up an adjacent apartment and knock down the walls. But that is relatively rare in Seattle, and will continue to be rare. The value of existing structures will also come into play, eventually. But you will also see more houses turned into apartments (something unheard of around here). Eventually, of course, you run into the cost of construction. Not only the cost of material and labor, but other regulations, that delay construction. These are all lower limits to what can be build. But we are a very way from that point. Once we reach that point, the cost of housing will be a lot less than it is now. There will be a lot more places for people to live, which means a lot more people living in the city. This will help transit quite a bit. It is just a matter of changing the regulations.

      8. The average median cost of housing in Seattle continues to increase despite new units for three reasons:

        1. A high AMI.

        2. New construction is the most expensive per sf. Replacing a SFH with multiple smaller units increases the number of dwellings but not total housing if the regulatory limits are the same. Same number of total bedrooms, but now each unit must have its own kitchen, bathroom, living area, and parking spot.

        3. Builders like to buy low and sell high. So all the new construction usually replaces older, more affordable housing like the house in Ross’s example. New construction replaces older construction which increases the amount of expensive new housing while decreasing the supply of older, more affordable existing housing, which is exactly what one would expect builders to do in a high AMI market.

        There are other factors too: property taxes make up 14% of rent, inflation which was running 10% in this market, higher borrowing rates, green building codes, the adoption of the international building code, etc. which is why the folks in the rental game I know expect rents to rise 20% over the next two years but broken into 2 10% increases for political reasons. Although the smart ones sold their SFH rentals during the peak to buyers who did not intend to rent them out or continue the ADU because they didn’t need the rental income from an ADU.

      9. “1. A high AMI.”

        You confuse cause and effect. You have done this over and over again, and people explain it to you, but you either can’t understand or just don’t want to understand. Or you do understand, but refuse to admit it.

        All the people with low or median income can no longer afford to live in Seattle, because the housing is so expensive. Not the other way around.

      10. Cam, no one is arguing high housing costs (effect) are the cause of high AMI. Just the opposite.

        You got it right. Folks with higher incomes moved to Seattle, large tech companies started offering very high salaries, plus stock grants that increased about 15%/year until 2022.

        So if you were a Seattle native and your income stayed the same suddenly you were below AMI, which increased about 40% to 50% to $115,000 in Seattle from 2010 to 2021.

        Increased housing costs — and just about everything else because Seattle has both one of the highest AMI’s and cost of living indexes in the world because they go together — became more expensive. Plus the population increase of high income folks was too fast for builders to keep up. The zoning capacity was there, but they can build only so many units/year.

        Something Tacomee has tried to explain but I don’t think some quite understand is builders build to the AMI. If folks in the area are wealthy they build expensive high end housing, and usually replace low end housing to do it to make as much profit as possible.

        At the same time let’s not forget about 2/3 of folks region wide (50% in Seattle) own their housing so they are very happy with the increase in housing values, although maybe not the increase in the cost of everything else due to the rapid increase in AMI. Anyone who has lived in Seattle for more than 10 years can tell you prices in restaurants and bars — which also gentrified — are much higher today.

        That’s just how it is. Seattle isn’t as expensive as San Francisco or NY but is incredibly expensive for a city that really isn’t world class.

        If you want a lower cost of living you have to move to a city with a lower cost of living.

        If you still want to live in Seattle and now find your income below the AMI I list some of the ways to afford housing, and it won’t be new construction because they are not building for you, unless you qualify for one of the units on the Hilltop Tacomee mentions and don’t mind risking your life.

      11. “Cam, no one is arguing high housing costs (effect) are the cause of high AMI. ”

        I am. Read what I wrote.

        Low income people can’t afford Seattle because of high housing costs. So they don’t move to Seattle or the leave.

        So because of high housing costs, AMI is skewed upwards. Because people with low AMI can’t afford to.

        It’s really, really simple. Read it 3 times.

      12. all of the PNW west of the Cascade crest will grow. With climate change, the area will be very attractive; the rest of the US will be hot.

        Seattle needs to figure out how to use and maintain its street grid. Right of way and capital are both scarce.

        RTO and WFH are still being sorted out. I doubt companies and employees have found the balance between in-person collaboration and the use of Zoom and its ilk. In-person collaboration and random interaction has been important for innovation. It is what cities have been about. After the 1918 flu, the US continued to urbanize.

      13. People keep having children, perhaps that’s why?

        It’s somewhat ironic that low density advocates argue for family friendliness, but don’t seem to actually want there to be more families.

    2. This comment is completely devoid of current reality. In just this month, downtown Seattle (I’m including the whole DSA definition not just the Union St area) is magnitudes more vibrant than all of downtown Bellevue including Old Main. That you think it doesn’t even match downtown Kirkland is a farce.

      1. Let’s not insult the writer of the post by suggesting that their work is a “joke”, please. It was a well-written article, and while an opinion piece to an extent, it was relatively factual for the most part. It is arguably much more of a farce to insult the post than the post itself ever was.


      2. I’m pretty sure he was referring to the comment, not the post itself. Thus the reference to Kirkland (which is on this comment thread) and not the post.

        But you are right. While I don’t agree with a lot of what was written, it is against comment policy to call it “a joke”. I’m removing that part of the comment now.

      3. Oh, whoops! My bad, thanks for noticing that (and correcting me). Yeah, I thought he meant the post itself.

      4. Yeah, I’m pretty sure Daniel needs to revisit his memory of the downtowns of the 1970s and 1980s. Except for office hours, an awful lot of downtowns were apocalyptic nothingness. Except for Saturday Market, downtown Portland on Saturdays was vacant.

        Starting in the late 1980s but really gaining ground in the 1990s, a lot of all-hours activity came to downtown Portland.

        What happened next is what really killed downtown Portland, at least as far as I’m concerned: the big national retailers came joined in the act, and a bunch of the unique places closed or moved. Some of many, many examples:

        • Saturday Market was forced to move to Waterfront Park, where it is much less easy to access. This was so the office building could use the parking lot there.

        • The several dozen small businesses nearby closed or moved due to reduced pedestrian traffic and increased rents, making the entire outdoor Pike Place Market vibe the district had into more of a dead zone.

        • Two of the big shopping malls, including Pioneer Place, would only lease the least desirable storefronts to local businesses. The national chains got the premium visibility.

        • Construction of office buildings forced a number of ground level retail and restaurants to close or move.

        After 15 years of this, the farmers that chased off all the geese that were laying golden eggs are wondering why nobody is laying golden eggs any more. Meanwhile, SE Division, SE Hawthorne, East Burnide, NW 23rd and NE Fremont all have thriving retail districts where plenty of golden eggs are suddenly being laid.

        Even so, downtown Portland has far more activity in it now than in the 1980s. I expect once the current wave of real estate speculation is over and leases become affordable again, a bunch of interesting and innovative small businesses will move back. 15 years ago East Burnside was considered a crime riddled wasteland until it become the land of affordable opportunity. The same happened on NE Fremont. 15 years ago NE Grand used to look like something out of a Detroit horror film but it’s gentrified a great deal.

        I expect that will happen in the neglected urban core of downtown Seattle too. It doesn’t seem to take much time for neglected urban wastelands to turn into trendy, thriving spaces when there is actual opportunity to get an affordable place to establish a business.

  8. Even with 0 employment, downtown Seattle has something like 100,000 residents. Pre-COVID, downtown had 350,000 employees, so 450,000 total on a weekday. I think employment is around 50% recovered already, and I don’t know that the residential population has declined at all, so it’s already got around 275,000 people on a weekday. Even if it’s not back to its heyday, that’s still a huge number of people, so I don’t know that we should discount downtown.

    What probably needs to happen is to understand how people downtown today differ from those in 2019. It’s still a huge transit destination, and people relying on transit are more likely to trip-chain, so we should have destinations that are amenable to that. PCC opened a grocery store a couple years ago, and we actually use that with some regularity when we’re on the way to or from somewhere else. It’s expensive, though, and it would be great if a lower-cost grocery store like Trader Joe’s or Fred Meyer could be enticed to open a location as well (too bad it can’t be a condition of the merger).

    I don’t always agree with Danny Westneat, but he had some great ideas in his recent article in the Times, including the benefits of opening a school or college campus downtown. This would almost certainly be easier than converting office towers into apartments or condos, would be a great, and take advantage of the already great transit, biking, and walking accessibility of downtown.

    Finally, if we’re going to be permanently 30% below what our previous predictions of downtown car capacity need to be, maybe we can make permanent changes to the way cars are prioritized downtown, such as closing freeway ramps that are impeding pedestrian and bike safety and slowing buses down. The city has already made better-than-expected (at least for me) strides in removing barriers to safe biking downtown such as bike lanes on 4th, 7th, and 8th, and this seems like a great time to continue and broaden those investments.

  9. “I grew up in Seattle, and remember when someone mentioned living downtown. My first thought was “ugh”. Not because of the homeless (although we called them “hobos” back then) or the crime, or too many people. It was just way too many cars.”

    When was that? I’ve never felt that way. I first encountered downtown in 1972 when I was 6, and then occasionally until the late 70s, when I started going often to the library or transferring buses there or going to places like Shorey’s huge used bookstore on 2nd Avenue. I was never bothered by the 4-lane one-way streets, because it is a downtown and a lot of people drive there. I just don’t want other neighborhoods to have so many lanes.

    In the 70s prostitutes concentrated on 1st Avenue. Homeless adults didn’t really exist; they lived in SRO hotels on 1st and 2nd Avenues. There were around 300 “street kids”, who’d been kicked out of their house for being gay or dissenting from the family religion or such, or whose parents were too unstable to live with (e.g., the parents were drug addicts). Homeless adults sleeping on sidewalks was “a New York City problem” you didn’t see here. Then in the early 80s a few things changed. The police drove the prostitutes out of downtown, and they dispersed to Aurora and Pacific Highway. The city condemned the SRO hotels as fire hazards and didn’t provide a replacement. The large mental-health institutions closed, and community replacements never appeared or didn’t have overnight stays. Then you stared seeing a few people sleeping on sidewalks, and over the years it gradually became more and more. When I was in junior high and hanging out on the Ave in the U-District as the punkers did, everybody had a home and went to it at night. In the 2000s these were replaced by people who looked the same but were homeless, but it didn’t start that way.

    1. You aren’t much younger me; I guess your attitude was different. I like streets where pedestrians outnumber cars (by a wide margin). Downtown Seattle never felt like that. It is easy to just say “that is normal, that is downtown” but that’s my point. I wouldn’t want to live in a typical American downtown, where that is normal. For the record, I’m mostly talking about the major avenues in the more business end of downtown (2nd and 4th around say, Union) as opposed to Belltown, or Pioneer Square. Seattle is definitely moving in the right direction, and I would be way more likely to move there, just like I would enjoy living in a European downtown.

      Speaking of Pioneer Square, I always remember seeing folks who were down and out there, and in other parts of downtown. The numbers just took a big jump in the 80s.

    2. “I guess your attitude was different”

      I just felt like, “Downtowns are like Manhattan,” so it seemed natural. It was so much more pedestrian than the tract-houses-and-strip-malls I grew up in that I was satisfied with it. What I most hated in the burbs was that with 10 minutes’ walking, you only passed 10 houses, and it seemed like you still hadn’t gotten anywhere.

      To be downtown is between Stewart Street and Yesler Way and west of I-5. Or maybe north to Denny Way; it’s ambiguous. In the 2000s it was said that downtown had 50,000 residents, or the Capitol Hill-First Hill ridge and CD had 50, 000 residents, I forget which. Then in the 2010s the city started talking about “Center City”, or greater downtown out to Valley Street, Broadway, and Weller Street. Now the city is saying downtown has 100,000 residents, but it’s also calling “Downtown” that entire Center City area. So it’s unclear how much traditional downtown has increased, or how much it’s a fiction of expanding the borders (like annexation).

      To me, downtown is still west of I-5. I feel southwest Capitol Hill and First Hill to be a different psychological experience. I live in southwest Capitol Hill, which was “not downtown”, but now it appears on downtown outdoor maps, which is a hoot because I could show people right where I live and how to get there, and the city seems to be moving toward calling it “downtown”.

      “Speaking of Pioneer Square, I always remember seeing folks who were down and out there”

      Oh yes, that was where the winos concentrated for decades. I never spent much time there. I’m mainly talking about areas like University Way, Broadway, and Pike-Pine, which didn’t have people sleeping on sidewalks and panhandlers, but now they do.

      Re hobo, that’s traditionally somebody who migrated from job to job in different cities, not somebody who remained homeless in one city. The early 20th century had more of a hobo situation. Or maybe it’s less visible now that they travel less on top of trains or walking or hitchhiking, and more by car or airplane or Greyhound so they go unnoticed among the “ordinary” travelers.

      1. I just felt like, “Downtowns are like Manhattan,” so it seemed natural.

        Except Manhattan has more people than cars. It is full of neighborhoods with slow moving cars (Greenwich Village, Chelsea, much of Harlem) and has a giant park in the middle of it. There are big avenues, of course, but it just didn’t seem dominated by it the way that Seattle was, back in the day. You can walk parallel to the big avenues in Manhattan while sticking mostly to quiet streets ( It is hard to do that in Seattle, although it has gotten better. The viaduct being gone and the new waterfront means staying west is a great option now (or will be soon).

        But a lot of it has to do with semantics. If you move to Chelsea, you don’t say “I moved downtown”, but if you move to Belltown, you might (especially to someone who doesn’t know the city). They are kinda sorta similar, especially now.

        But yeah, a lot of it is just expectations. A lot of North American cities have a ton of cars in their downtown. It isn’t like European downtowns don’t have cars — they most definitely do. But there are almost always very nice alternatives to walking on a street with a ton of fast moving cars.

  10. Another topic related to the transformation of downtown is what this means for park and ride lots, whose sole purpose has historically been for people to park and ride the bus to their 9-5 job downtown. Many park and ride lots don’t even have all day bus service, unless you could those slow milk run routes that nobody already in possession of a car to leave at a park and ride would ever ride.

    Just today, for example, I caught the 250 at Bear Creek Park and ride, not because I cared the slightest about the parking, but because it’s the closest route 250 stop to Marymoor Park (still a 15 minute walk from the east entrance, not exactly close, but still closer than any other transit option). Not surprisingly, it was a ghost town. The 545 still serves it, but people who live in that area and want a bus to downtown they can drive to have better options, such as Mercer Island park and ride for the 550.

    I can easily see the park and ride lots that don’t offer direct Link access quickly becoming stranded assets for the Metro/ST. Houghton park and ride is already closing, maybe Bear Creek Park and ride will be next.

    If it means the land gets redeveloped from surface lot into housing, this could be a good thing. But, I’d it’s a giant garage like Issaquah Transit Center, tearing it down would be very expensive, which begs the question of just what will happen to these facilities.

    1. I believe Metro is selling off one of their surface lots on Shoreline. I could see a lot more of that. You are right though; the big parking garages are tougher to deal with. Another reason we shouldn’t build them. Once you get to the point that you are building a garage (instead of a cheap, small lot) you need to rethink the problem (and run more buses).

      1. Eastgate park and ride at least has a destination nearby (Bellevue College) that could conceivably strike a deal with Metro to use some of the parking for their own students if they decide to expand. Issaquah and Issaquah Highlands, though, could easily become white elephants.

        Maybe some developer someday will decide to build a new retail center across the street and offer to buy the parking garage to use for their customers, as a cheaper alternative to building a whole bunch of new parking. Otherwise, they probably just sit there at 15% capacity essentially forever.

      2. Portland area Southgate park and ride was also the parking lot for a movie theater, which worked nicely for shared use of parking spots. Once online streaming really took off it was no longer viable so it closed years ago.

        It’s still a park and ride lot, but it became almost completely unused after the MAX orange line opened. There’s maybe 3 people that use it now.

        Anyway, some sort of time compatible business like that would be really good, but I’m not sure what works in many of these locations. Suburban destination megachurch and factory outlet mall seem to be the only in-person business models working right now for locations in the middle of nowhere.

    2. Don’t forget a park and ride is governed by the regulatory limits and use zoning in the zone it sits in, which is often residential. The park and ride is generally just a conditional use permit.

      For example the park and ride on MI is north of N. Mercer Way so it sits in a SFH zone. If you tore it down the height limit for another structure would be 30’, the gross floor area to lot area ratio 40%, large yard setbacks, and I believe minimum lot size is 8400 or 9600 sf. So you might get 3 SFH at the cost of 453 stalls for transit if ridership ever returns.

      If Metro is closing or selling park and rides that is a very bad sign for transit, but probably reality. But don’t expect a city or neighbors to want to convert the lot to some huge, dense, affordable housing project, especially since there won’t be any transit service.

      If you are Metro or ST and don’t have a hatred of cars you want park and rides packed, especially park and rides already built. Some claim the 1500 stall S. Bellevue park and ride looks like a huge waste of money, but really East Link looks like the huge waste of money.

      1. “For example the park and ride on MI is north of N. Mercer Way so it sits in a SFH zone… So you might get 3 SFH at the cost of 453 stalls”

        Not for long if the state bill passes. :) So maybe we’ll get 6 units or 18 units instead of 3. Not that I’m expecting it to be built to the limit; I assume the low-density attitude of Mercer Island residents will continue. Still, the city of Mercer Island could rezone it for an apartment building, to discourage growth elsewhere.

        “If Metro is closing or selling park and rides that is a very bad sign for transit”

        It’s natural evolution, and some P&Rs were already underused. The most-desired P&Rs are on all-day express routes closest to the destination. The least-desired P&Rs aren’t on any express routes or are more remote. Some of those were questionable to keep, and Houghton may be one of them. That doesn’t mean the closure is related to a precipitous drop in transit use.

        ,”don’t expect a city or neighbors to want to convert the lot to some huge, dense, affordable housing project, especially since there won’t be any transit service.”

        Most P&Rs do have transit service. Mercer Island P&R has a Link station. Houghton P&R has the 250. Eastgate P&R has the 554 and 21x. Aurora Village P&R has the E and Swift and other routes.

        Isolated P&Rs without transit like Wilburton are the worst place for a large housing project. But most P&Rs aren’t like that.

      2. I just remembered, Shoreline said something about converting the Shoreline P&R at 192nd & Aurora to housing?

      3. Mercer Island is a park and ride is about far more than Mercer Island. You islanders may not like, but it’s the quickest intercept point to switch from car to transit for just about anywhere to the east of it. Somebody driving in from Sammamish, North Bend, or much of Bellevue who wants to ride transit into Seattle, their first-choice park and ride will be Mercer Island; they may end up using another park and ride if they’re worried about Mercer Island being full , but capacity aside, Mercer Island is a lot of people’s first choice. I don’t see it ever going away.

      4. Mercer Island is a park and ride is about far more than Mercer Island. You islanders may not like, but it’s the quickest intercept point to switch from car to transit for just about anywhere to the east of it. Somebody driving in from Sammamish, North Bend, or much of Bellevue who wants to ride transit into Seattle, their first-choice park and ride will be Mercer Island; they may end up using another park and ride if they’re worried about Mercer Island being full , but capacity aside, Mercer Island is a lot of people’s first choice. I don’t see it ever going away.

        I agree that it is bound to be popular, but don’t forget congestion. If I’m in Issaquah, for example, and there is a steady stream of buses from there to Mercer Island, I’ll just park there. It is an extra transfer, but a pretty easy one. Beats stop-and-go traffic.

        I’m sure Mercer Island residents have a love-hate relationship with it. On the one hand, it is very handy. It is unlikely they will ever get really good transit covering the island. On the other hand, it is crowded, for the reasons you mentioned. Once traffic dies down, it becomes the preferred park and ride lot for everyone along the I-90 corridor. By midday, I would imagine it will be full. Then there is the traffic surrounding it, which I’m sure folks on the island won’t appreciate. What they want, basically, is to reserve it for themselves. It would be much smaller, there would be a lot less traffic around it, and you could always find a spot.

        I don’t see that happening. It may not be legal. What I do see as being possible is to just charge money for it. Mercer Island residents are generally wealthy, so they won’t mind paying extra. Folks outside the island would have other (free) options. Or maybe self-driving cars will just drop people off (funny how that used to be discussed a lot as if they would be inevitable by now — self-driving cars are looking more and more like fusion).

      5. I doubt MI’s park and ride will be torn down even though it has little commuter use these days, even though S. Bellevue will have 1500 stalls which will attract transit riders from Issaquah first, and the fact the 554 will go directly to Bellevue Way so should free up a lot of parking capacity at S. Bellevue.

        The MI park and ride was purposefully built to prevent additional stories. It holds 453 stalls. Pre-pandemic 53% was off-Island use, and as Ross notes this was a bone of contention.

        Pre-pandemic ST rolled out a charging plan for the park and ride: $120/month but you had to be there by 9 am or you lost your spot.

        I thought Islanders would snap up the spots but no one did. The $120/month fee plus transit round trip charge was the same cost as parking at work, and wealthy Islanders already drove to work. The transit commuter slaves like secretaries and dental hygienists were the only ones who got screwed. It would be like charging separately for a feeder bus and Link to reduce crowding on the bus. Who gets screwed in that situation.

        What the park and rides really needed was a reservation system. Moms who had to get their kids to school arrived after the lot was full, and folks traveling during non peak times like for medical appointments could never get a spot.

        Today that isn’t a problem. I am not one who thinks converting the excellent express bus service on MI that even today has better frequency than East Link to rail will lure discretionary suburbanites back to the park and ride or transit. Ridership on East Link on MI will mirror ridership today on the multiple buses that stop on MI, which is why the Eastside transit restructure cut the intensity of the bus intercept on MI in half, because even though half full Metro at this point believes peak buses must have a minimum 15 minute frequency.

        MI never had an issue with this level of intensity, or the roundabout to return buses to the Eastside without traveling to Seattle to turn around (assuming East Link will be able to cross the bridge at 50 mph every 8 minutes with the weight of four car trains). The irony today is non-peak bus service from MI to the Issaquah/North Bend/Sammamish areas will be terrible, 30 to 90 minute frequencies, although very few Islanders take buses to those areas.

    3. The first P&Rs were built in the 1970s by Metro, and most had an express bus route to downtown. The 340 used to serve 70th (Houghton) and 132nd (Kingsgate) going to downtown Bellevue and Renton Boeing. Its successor the 535 bypasses 70th, so that dried up the express-transit market. There may have been peak expresses to downtown, but not the entire time I think.

      Metro or ST own most of the P&Rs. WSDOT may own a few? There are several kinds of P&Rs, both large intercepts with all-day expresses, smaller lots with only a peak express, and even smaller lots with no bus routes. Small lots like Wilburton used to have an express bus but later didn’t. They remained open ostensibly for vanpools and carpools. There are also church lots, which are primarily for another purpose but are used as P&Rs weekday daytime.

      The ideal would be to convert P&Rs to housing or an urban village. Some like TIB and the South Bellevue renovation were apparently built to be convertable to housing later. The Bel-Red station surface lot is explicitly a temporary use, until Spring District density reaches that area. The South Kirkland P&R hosts a couple low-income apartment buildings. I think it was originally just a parking lot, and then the apartment buildings were built? I don’t know much about how South Kirkland P&R started. If Houghton P&R is underused and gets converted to another use, hooray. I’m counting the days until that happens to other P&Rs like Shoreline South and North and Kenmore and Lynnwood, but I have no idea when/if it might happen. I assume it’s decades away.

      1. Houghton and Woodinville are WSDOT owned. After about 2000, Houghton was served by routes 265 and 277, in addition to Route 342. Route 265 was deleted in fall 2014; Route 277 was deleted in March 2020. WSDOT will now sell Houghton.

      2. This multifamily development in Kenmore used to be the Northshore Park & Ride. (In between 182nd and Kemore Camera).,-122.2507839,189m/data=!3m1!1e3

        Also, across the street to the south from the Redmond TC used to be the Redmond Park & Ride parking lot, which is now the massive Veloce Apartments.

        A giant P&R that most Seattle-area residents don’t know about, that I’m sure gets almost no use, is the Twin Lakes Park & Ride in Federal Way. Perhaps that would also be a good P&R to replace with housing.

      3. I was stunned the other day when I noticed the large underutilized park and ride lot just south of Federal Way Link (25th Ave S and S 322 St). It am expecting that it will be used for construction staging when Link extends south from Federal Way for the South OMF or the TDLE. It looks large enough to be a good site for a high rise residential tower — provided that some path to safely get pedestrians above 320th to the station can be created.

  11. A lot of those high rise units in Vancouver are indeed unoccupied. You can tell at night when many of the condo buildings are mostly dark. Whereas condo buildings in Belltown are very well lit at the same hour. Things maybe changing a bit now with recent legislation and property tax increases for foreign investors as well as Covid era capital outflow restrictions from China making these investments more challenging. But this was a huge problem in Vancouver just a few years ago. This is also a problem in China. The money is often gray, so even if it is losing money in terms of condo fees or taxes, it is still money out of China into a foreign asset. It is an accepted carrying cost. As in China, the units are often not rented out because the middle men costs make renting the unit out often not worth the hassle or exposure. They are also typically in markets where the rent is much lower than the cost of buying.

    It is not some myth or xenophobic conspiracy. It actually happens all the time in the Canadian high rise condo market.

    1. Yeah, it is a problem, but I agree with the other post. It is based on speculation, which is based on the limited amount of development. The fact that it is big in Vancouver and Toronto (two famously “grand bargain“/”trickle or fire hose” cities) show that zoning plays a huge part. Open up the zoning and you will see the prices drop, and folks sell. Or, at the very least, their foolish investment matters a lot less.

    2. There’s been at a few recent Pearl District developments in Portland aimed at investors in Asia as well. It’s not just a Canadian phenomenon. With some searching, I’ve not found the article yet.

      I did run across an article advertising one building has Genuine Concrete Floors, but so far I’ve found none of the ones that quoted builders saying they were aiming to market there.

    3. Take a look at the S. Bellevue park and ride for underutilization even though the 550 stops there. It is a huge building when lit up at night. Endless amounts of concrete.

      It is built in a green belt next to a residential zone so I am not sure it could be developed to another use. Based on current ridership on express buses and the fact the 554 will continue directly to Bellevue Way when East Link opens S. Bellevue will be the major access point for folks along I-90 taking East Link to Seattle (rather than feeder buses).

      Its massive scale and cost were based on ST’s pre-pandemic ridership estimates so I would be surprised it it ever meets capacity for parking for East Link. In fact I think WFH will increase and transit ridership decrease on the Eastside over the next decade from current levels. Everyone will take “the train” once and think “meh”, like a bus to nowhere, and that will be that.

      1. I think south Bellevue park and ride will eventually fill up, but only because most of the drivers who currently use park and ride lots further east will switch to it. That, combined with the fact that Link will be much more frequent and reliable than the 550, and will provide a one seat ride to the UW, not just downtown. And the fact that somebody will eventually find a use for that glut of downtown office space. It’s the Eastgate, Issaquah, and Issaquah Highlands parking garages that are going to become white elephants. Once Link opens to Bellevue, almost nobody will use them. Even if the bus is frequent enough that driving to the train saves only 5 minutes, people will still have no reason not to do it to save 5 minutes. The cost of gas is just not enough to matter, and the cost of electricity, once everybody starts driving EVs, even less.

      2. I agree asdf2: the S. Bellevue park and ride will be the focus of East Link. Eastsiders won’t drive to a park and ride to catch a bus to get to a station that serves East Link.

        How many of the stalls will be filled will depend on eastsider commuters returning to Seattle and whether employers will have to offer subsidized parking to get employees back in the office (Seattle or Bellevue ).

        I believe ridership will mimic the 550 and other cross lake buses today. I don’t see eastsiders driving to S, Bellevue to take East Link to Seattle because it is a train and not a bus. The cross lake buses in the center roadway and then the HOV lane were very good, about a thousand years ago.

      3. I agree asdf2. I think Eastgate in particular will be empty. If you are only 1.5 miles from South Bellevue on the freeway, why stop?

        I also expect ST to get pressure to disclose vacant spaces with electronic signs if some garages fill too early. That’s especially true for the lots along I-5 opening with Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.

        Finally — and I think perhaps more controversially — I expect some riders will move from Sounder to Link — both North and South. That’s more likely if they live significantly west of South Sounder or significantly east of 99 for North Sounder.

        Sounder is set up to end up in a low ridership — service reduction death spiral once Link opens less than 3 miles away.

    4. Can you explain why you believe that there are many unoccupied units in Vancouver? Can you tell whether the building in question is a condo building or an apartment building? And building lights are misleading. I know for a fact some buildings that are 100% occupied, but never look it at night. And hotels never look lit up, or even half lit up, even when there isn’t a room available in the city.

      Foreigners have been an object of blame here for high housing prices for a while, but aside from at the very high end of the market, there really isn’t any evidence for it. People said high rise condos were empty, then the individual electricity use statistics showed that just wasn’t the case. Then people said that it was the homes in expensive neighbourhoods that were empty because the local retail was suffering. But retail was suffering everywhere.

      (A note on electricity. Smart meters are near universal here, and have been for some time. We have detailed statistics from every meter including time of day data. I looked up my consumption for Tuesday, the last day available, and it was 4.21 kWh at a cost of 61 cents. This is broken down into hourly increments. So from 12 to 1pm, I used 0.25 kWh at a cost of three cents. This level of detail is both neat and freaky.)

      Then we got the empty homes tax that showed some vacancy, but not much. And the vacancy tax is not collected haphazardly. Everyone must file a vacancy tax return, sort of like an income tax return, every year and claim an exemption, the most obvious being “I live here”, or pay the tax. There is probably some jiggery pokery here, but even if the numbers are multiplied several times, the number of vacant homes in Vancouver is less than few percentage points.

      And finally during covid, immigration and foreign purchasers fell dramatically but housing prices continued to go up. Actually even accelerated a bit.

  12. Mike Orr “What I most hated in the burbs was that with 10 minutes’ walking, you only passed 10 houses, and it seemed like you still hadn’t gotten anywhere.”

    This is spot on. I was just at a friend’s house in Redmond today. We had lunch and the kids were getting antsy so we all went for a walk afterwards. Walked about 15 minutes and we were still in the subdivision, and then we walked back to his house. Granted we had small kids with us too, but that just added to the frustration of a walk to nowhere. I don’t mind walking for 30 minutes, but it needs to be somewhere worth walking to at that distance. Having good frequent buses also helps especially with kids as they could be too tired for the return trip. But buses don’t come deep into your subdivision either.

    Despite the detractors who say there’s nothing in Seattle that the Eastside doesn’t have, Seattle still offers a lot. It can be a very nice place to raise active kids.

      1. SLUer,

        I showed up at the Seattle Greyhound Station on Stewart in 1984 with my clothes in a backpack and maybe $300? in my pocket. Moved into the San Telmo SRO hotel before nightfall (what a dump that place was). Got a job cooking at the Denny’s just north of the airport the next day (one hell of a bus ride even back then).

        Even without knowing any of the right people and without a college degree I managed to buy a house 12 years later in the middle of nowhere (Key Peninsula). I would remodel and trade up on houses 2 more times before 2010.

        I’m a self made person, but let me be 100% clear that I didn’t have shit, didn’t know shit, I’m not the 1 in million winner. The environment in Seattle was just different then. I worked and I thrived. It wasn’t that hard. For a person like me….. Seattle is 100% impossible now. Million dollar houses? I can’t afford that even how. If you don’t have a real good job in tech, I’d suggest just packing up and moving to Texas. Tonight is as good as any.

        What I see in Seattle currently are these wild political ideas….. big zoning changes, social housing (I-135), TOD schemes……. all aimed at giving young people a better, or even realistic, shot at building a life in Seattle. And it’s all 100% hogwash. There are no political solutions to economic problems.

      2. Hey, way back then I remember driving through downtown Seattle…

        Wait for it…..


        The place has grown.
        The Northwest ‘Native’s, (that was a bumper sticker, remember), and the Lesser Seattle Movement and their spokesperson Emmet Watson all said “It’s them there Californicators messing up our Paradise!”.

        “If we keep doing things that acknowledge the growth, then …
        They’ll Keep Moving Here!”

        Guess what, when a region doesn’t prepare, it will still look better to any group of people that come from a shittier environment.

      3. There are no political solutions to economic problems.

        Wait, what??? That is absurd. Social Security is a political solution to an economic problem. Labor unions built the middle class. Anti-trust laws broke up the monopolies. Our entire mixed economy is political solutions to economic problems.

        The same is true of housing. What is unusual about housing is that the economic problem is largely due to a political problem. Simply put, we wouldn’t have this problem if not for zoning. I’m not saying it would be the kind of city I want to live in, but if they zoned the entire city for high rise residential, housing would be extremely cheap in most of the city. It certainly would be in my neighborhood.

        It is also cheap in other parts of the world. Here are some examples. It is really striking that Tokyo is on that list. Tokyo — the biggest city on earth — is reasonably affordable, with townhouses for around 300K. Other Japanese cities are similar, if not cheaper. These cities, like Tokyo, add huge numbers of people, but they also add huge numbers of units. (Japan itself has started to shrink, but there has been a major “move to the city” movement.) Japan does it with a very centralized, simple, liberal zoning. Germany is more locally focused. The point is, these places — like many others — have found political solutions to the economic problems. That is just a standard part of being a modern democracy.

      4. I agrée that it’s a nonsensical statement, Ross.

        The very creation of suburbia is traceable to two major political factors:

        – low down payment VA and FHA loans that required building in favored (less dense and more white) areas for a few decades after WWII
        – Property tax and mortgage interest deductions on income tax filings (often the biggest itemized category) but not rent

        These two things (among other policies) have set the stage for decades of practices so systemic that they are mostly taken for granted — and our metro areas and economics of them have been significantly changed.

      5. Al, VA loans at least in this area post WWII mostly went to housing in Seattle and its burbs like Capitol Hill at the time. That is how my dad bought his first house. The real migration to the Eastside didn’t begin until 1970, and was for reasons like schools and public safety. City dwellers like my dad who lived in Seattle from 1922 until 1970 didn’t want to move to a very rural Eastside and trade in his brick Tudor on lower Capitol Hill for an old run down summer house on Mercer island and commute to work downtown every day but felt it was better for his kids.

        I do agree about the mortgage interest deduction and deduction for property taxes. The 2017 tax reform under Trump limited the SALT tax deduction that includes property and sales taxes to $10,000 (that D’s in blue states want to increase to $60,000) and limited the value of the loan the deduction for mortgage interest could be claimed.

        These deductions are rooted in the belief the American dream is to own your home. Even today the state legislature is looking at funding home purchases for Black citizens. Seattle today is over 50% renter and that is an an anomaly and usually not a good sign although some prefer to rent.

      6. RossB,

        Changes in zoning aren’t going to make much difference in Seattle housing prices. I see zoning changes in horizon, but that’s for builders and investors to make more money, Affordability? Not part of the equation.

        Over the last 2 decades, there’s been so many housing units built in Seattle. It’s crazy stupid how big of a boom there’s been. Why? because there are people who will pay 3 grand a month (or more) in rent for the privilege of living in Seattle. A whole lot of people got rich, starting with the City (frees, permits and property taxes).

        Zoning aside, the construction industry has slowed way down lately. I’m going to guess that the industry matches builds to the number of well heeled Californians who move north… the high end, slower growth, high profit market.

        This idea that zoning, that social housing, that any political change is going to bring back 250K condos back in Seattle is insane. You’re acting like entire industries, finance and construction, are going to do what you personally believe in. Stop giving young people reading this some kind of idea that radical change to Seattle housing prices is even a possibility!

        I have friends who are working on building low income housing on Hilltop, Tacoma. Still one of the cheapest places to build in Greater Seattle.
        The price per unit is 300-350k a unit….. and the project is being on land owned by a church!

        If you’re not rich, move out of Seattle ASAP. Find a place with better odds in your favor.

      7. Ross, we have had discussions about housing costs in Tokyo before. Residents in Tokyo have a much lower AMI than in Seattle, but pay a higher percentage of their income toward housing.

        Same with Montreal. Housing prices are low in Montreal because it has a very low AMI compared to other North American cities including Seattle. Montreal stayed closed longer than most cities during the pandemic and is suffering economically, that not surprisingly is further depressing housing costs.

        The key comparisons are AMI vs housing costs, and the percentage of income a resident pays toward income.

        In the U.S. the definition of affordable housing is spending no more than 30% of gross income on housing. Seattle’s AMI is $115,000, so even a person living alone has almost $2900/mo. to spend on housing, which would afford very nice rental housing in any Seattle neighborhood. Much better than a resident inTokyo earning 100% AMI could afford.

        I have lived in some large wealthy cities like London and NY with lots of housing and density and I think what Tacomee is getting at is it is hard to live in those cities if you are below AMI, as I learned. Rarely have I seen a city of any size with a high AMI with low housing costs, and over time builders build to that high AMI increasing the supply of expensive housing and decreasing the supply of affordable housing. It is why we spend so much in this area publicly subsidizing affordable housing. The market has the opposite incentive.

      8. Tacomee, the obvious solutions to dealing with high housing costs in Seattle are:

        1. Earn more money.

        2. Get a roommate.

        3. Live in a less desirable neighborhood.

        4. Get a smaller or older unit.

        5. Move to a lower cost city.

        If you are waiting for new construction to lower or stabilize rent prices (because those who own like high housing values and costs) you will be disappointed.

    1. I had a friend on the top of Queen Anne at high school. We walked to Seattle Center in 20 minutes, or to the U-District in an hour and 15 minutes, passing many businesses, apartments, houses, and other things we might sometimes go to. In the Eastside, you can walk an hour and pass only larger houses, and even a single lone convenience store in any direction is a mile away.

      Seattle has some areas like that, like the Lake Washington shore, but the’re unusual. You can walk on one of the residential avenues in North Seattle and see only houses, but you know that just three blocks east or west is a village or commercial area with a bus route. A few months ago I walked on 32nd Ave NW, which has one cafe at 85th and then just houses, and found a few businesses at 65th or so.

      My worst experience was in Santa Clara, California. The streets are a half mile apart, with just one office building in the middle, surrounded by open space. There was a lone IHOP three blocks away, but that was a 30 minute walk and I passed only three buildings.

      In downtown Seattle if you walk 30 minutes north from Westlake, you’re past Seattle Center and partway up the hill. If you walk 30 minutes south, you’re past the International District almost to Goodwill. And you’ve passed dozens of office buildings and retail and condos you might go to at other times.

      1. When you walk through Discovery Park, do you think “man, I just walked for 45 minutes and saw nothin’ but trees” ?

        Suburbs are supposed to be park-like. Yes, this only works if a neighborhood has sidewalks, street trees, etc. But I find this line of criticism a bit bizarre. People move to the suburbs specifically because they want to go for a long walk through their neighborhood and pass nothing but houses on quiet streets. If you prefer something different, great! But that’s preference.

        Should we have more housing where there is something other than just more housing to walk to? Sure. But this thread is really just “I don’t like suburbs.” Y’all sound like my friend who doesn’t like going to national parks because she find them boring.

      2. There was a convenience store and a few shops in a small strip mall just outside the development in Bothell where I previously lived.

        It was about a 15 minute walk from any of the developments.

        However, once on the small 2 lane arterial, there was no sidewalk to access the stores. It was a place where young children (old enough to explore on their own) would have to walk or bike on a dirt path on the other side of a drainage ditch to access that last 1/4 mile.
        No shoulder on the road, just the ditch. The path was uphill on one side adjacent to the property line of the houses on that side. (This was the same side as the stores, with the other side of the road having only dirt on the other side of the fog line)

        I spoke at a city council meeting, and during the open public-comment period I asked if there was a way to pave that dirt path. Nothing expensive, an asphalt path would be adequate. The mayor responded that when the road was improved, they were going to install the standard curb/gutter/sidewalk.

        I asked why the sidewalk required the road to be improved, since for safety parents would drive their children (or even choose driving to avoid the dirt path) to that convenience store.
        I even suggested that increased traffic could be mitigated by installing the sidewalk independently.

        Later that year, lo and behold, they put in a sidewalk (concrete).
        I’d like to think that it was all in response to my petitioning my government.
        (one of the council members (and future mayor) was from my area, so she might have had some influence)

        Interestingly, when I would discuss with neighbors that the development itself would be improved with sidewalks, I would get the pushback that it would ruin the ‘semi-rural’ feel of the development.
        I would then ask them how many cars driving by their house does it take to make it already feel like it’s not a ‘rural paradise’?

        It’s the bizarre idea that everything must be viewed ‘through the windshield’ to have any validity. Even to the point where my tax dollars (i.e. REET, and local sales tax) are diverted to road improvements where I might want it spent other ways.

      3. When you walk through Discovery Park, do you think “man, I just walked for 45 minutes and saw nothin’ but trees” ?

        Suburbs are supposed to be park-like.

        I’m not sure that is the goal, but if it is, they fail at it. A wilderness-style park feels, well, wild. Discovery Park is not in the wilderness — most trees are second growth if not younger. But there are various places that feel wild. You enter a forest and all you can see is trees — big ones, too. The suburbs often have greenbelts that are similar. But the areas where there are houses are not. There are trees (again, some of them big) but mostly it is big lawns and big houses.

        There is nothing wrong with that. That can be very interesting in its own right. Both the houses and the landscaping can be very interesting. But as Mike points out, it helps if the lots are smaller. Basically, the more variety the better. Each lot tends to have their own landscaping style (with only one house). Really big lots means that you have to walk a long ways before you see another house, and another landscaping style. It tends to get monotonous. My neighborhood has relatively big lots for Seattle. When I go on a long walk I almost always walk south, where the lots are smaller. Of course this is personal preference, but I think most people would agree that walking around the SFH parts of Ravenna is more interesting than walking around the SFH parts of Pinehurst. Again, it is just variety. I like areas of Ballard and Wallingford even more, as they have some interesting old apartments that were built before the zoning rules. Throw in a few shops, and it is especially interesting.

        That brings up another point. The fact that shops are largely forced to be on arterials makes it a lot less pleasant. There are a few exceptions ( but it means that if you want to walk by a lot of retail, you generally have to be on a busy street (with lots of cars). This is not what should happen in a city.

        People move to the suburbs specifically because they want to go for a long walk through their neighborhood and pass nothing but houses on quiet streets.

        That is a nice theory, but there is nothing to back that up. The suburbs as we know them in America were designed so that you could have a large house on a lot of land without paying much money. The assumption was that you would drive everywhere. They are really based on cars. When we write “the suburbs” we aren’t talking about the type of suburbs you find in say, Paris. We mean automobile-based suburbs. Almost revolves around the advantages and disadvantages of the automobile. Distance is less important if you have a car, which explains the very long distance from a house to a store. But there are disadvantages to cars, which they figured out early on. A grid in a low density area tends to have a lot of accidents. So they adopted the pattern we summarize as “cul-de-sacs”. Not only are there big dead ends, but intersections meet at a “T”, reducing crashes. This is a good plan, but it means that people often have a much longer walk to go anywhere. But walking was not a priority.

        A lot of the zoning is based on cars as well. At first glance it seems nonsensical to ban grocery stores in the neighborhood, but people don’t want the extra automobiles driving the streets, or parking close to them. It is clearly based on the idea that walking is simply not important. Don’t walk to the store; drive to the store. Don’t walk and visit your friend; have your mom drive you there. When people picture “soccer moms”, they almost always picture a minivan with a bunch of kids, instead of a mom walking to the nearest park to watch their kid play. People talk about the safety of the suburbs, but the reality is that kids are chaperoned at a much older age in North America than in Europe, simply because the streets are more dangerous. Not from predators, but from cars.

        When it comes to apartments, cars had a little to do with it, but it was also based on race and class. There was (and probably is) a big worry about home values. Too many of “the wrong kind of people” and the neighborhood home values go down. I once read a book about American zoning, and that is pretty much the history in a nutshell. Originally it was all about factories, but for a long time it has been about cars, race and class.

        I reject the idea that “people like it that way”. Sure, some people do. But that misses the point. It evolved that way for the reasons mentioned. People moved to the suburbs because it was cheap, or as a way to get away from people of color. Now it is more varied. Some move because they really do want a very big lot. Others because that is all they could find. A few years back I remember reading a Consumer Report article about lawn mowers that wrote that most Americans wish they had a smaller lawn. Thus it is quite reasonable to assume that a lot of people would be happier with a smaller lot, especially if it was less expensive. But they really don’t have that choice in many communities. They may like the neighborhood for a host of other reasons. Maybe they just like the house itself, or the schools, or the fact that is is close to where they work. The fact that you have to artificially limit the choices (by law) suggests that people aren’t self selecting to build those types of neighborhoods. It is the opposite.

      4. AJ, the beauty of Discovery Park is that its terrain is incredibly varied. You have meadows, bluffs, deep forest, beach, grassland, hills for sledding/kiting, mountain views all within one walk. If it were only just trees, it wouldn’t be as popular of a park.

        I agree that there are a few suburban neighborhoods with a “park like” walking environment, but they are few and far between, and certainly suburbs and “park-like” are not synonymous. Many suburbs in our region don’t even have side walks. Being forced to walk on the street past rows and rows of driveways and mailboxes hardly counts as a “park like” experience. Maybe more accurately described as bucolic or imitation rural experience, like Mercer Island.

        Seattle also has many “park like” neighborhoods too. Neighborhoods like Queen Anne, Madison Park, Madrona feel a lot more park-like than similar priced Eastside neighborhoods like Rose Hill or even much more expensive areas like Beaux Arts. Many of the boulevards in QA are actually Olmsted designed and popular jogging paths. Boulevards are well landscaped with scenic views of the Olympics and Mount Rainier/skyline. That’s park like. And even if you don’t like walking to a store or restaurant, you can walk to a scenic point as a destination. That’s what good parks do, even our national parks do this.

      5. I want to add also, even in areas that have sidewalks on the Eastside, they are often narrow and directly against the road due to space constraints. There are often no berm, even on busier roads. Contrast that to neighborhoods like QA with wide sidewalks, berm on the outer side with mature trees and planters, and another row of parked cars separating the pedestrian from the street.

        This is all a matter of preferences and I’m glad we have choices in this metro area.

      6. SLU’er, my suburban city has very few sidewalks in the residential neighborhoods because of cost. Sidewalks are very expensive to build. It is one reason houses require three onsite parking spots, two covered and one uncovered (although the modern preference is for a three car garage to store stuff safely and place the furnace, water heater and three garbage/recycle/yard waste bins). This reduces parking along the residential streets which forces walkers —especially kids walking to the school bus — into the street. Parking along streets also reduces capacity for other uses. The town center has sidewalks, and areas around schools. But we just don’t have the money to install sidewalks everywhere.

        A key ratio for livability is park acres per thousand residents. Most comp. Plans have this info and a comparison to other cities. I don’t know what Seattle’s ratio is.

        Cities like Issaquah have a very high ratio. MI had a high ratio until population growth in the mixed use and multi-family building’s . Increased population does not benefit existing residents and generally makes an area less livable, and usually the larger the city the higher the tax burden per resident. Seattle actively attracted population growth, especially high earners, to gentrify the city and that growth has had some negative effects for existing residents, especially lower income residents. Given the choice even very progressive city councils prefer new wealthy residents than existing poor residents.

      7. Increased population does not benefit existing residents and generally makes an area less livable, and usually the larger the city the higher the tax burden per resident.

        Two statements combined into one anti-urban sentence. I’ll deal with the second part first.

        usually the larger the city the higher the tax burden per resident.

        Nonsense. Denser cities are more efficient. The same costs are spread to more people. Think fire hydrants. You have roughly the same number if there are a lot of people on the block, or very few. Thus the costs go down if you have a lot. What is true of fire hydrants is true of all public services. Costs go down (per person) as density increase. At the same time, the value of land goes up. That is why dense areas subsidize non-dense areas, even if the dense area is low income. Studies have proven this. This is not speculation — it is just looking at the numbers.

        Increased population does not benefit existing residents

        For the same reason as above, increased population reduces the economic burden on people. It also makes for a more lively city. Imagine Seattle without Thai restaurants. Kind of hard, but that is what it was back in the day. Increased population means more art, music and other forms of culture. Some of this is locally produced; some of it comes into town. From a cultural and economic standpoint, the more the merrier within the city.

        It also makes transit a lot more efficient. So many of the issues that we struggle with from a transit perspective are the result of us being so spread out. Thirty minute buses will be standard for the East Side, even as Link replaces all of the express buses. It’s just because there isn’t enough population density. What is true of the East Side is true of much of Seattle, and definitely the rest of the county (as well as counties to the north and south). It isn’t that European cities spends so much more on transit, it is that they can get so much more, because they are so much more dense.

  13. I think multiple things can be true

    1. Keeping out downtown zones only for office space will make us vulnerable to shifting tides like this

    2. A strong downtown CBD/Activity center us very important to the viability of our city and of the transit network built into it.

    It’s ok for there to be other strong nodes in other parts of the city and those nodes should dually be served with high quality transit as well but having multiple *strong* nodes is fundamentally different from job sprawl

    A city like Paris or Washington DC are decentralized (of more than one strong activity center and/or employment node). A city like LA has job sprawl.

    Job sprawl is bad because it fundamentally is difficult to serve. We want some amount of employment centralization which requires cooperation, trust, and commitment between many parties. We don’t want employers opening up office parks out in far flung exurban areas that are difficult to access by anything other than a car. This kind of trend often is the nail in the coffin for cities and Seattle for a while has at the very least been able to avoid the very worst of it at very least with a CBD comparatively stronger than a lot of other cities across the country.

    Should we allow people to live downtown? Allow somebody to build a mixed use apartment building where there was once a lightly used building or parking garage? Sure. I have no problem with it. Should we still try to make downtown and other dense nodes strong employment/activity centers in the process? I think so. It has for the most part been a proven formula. Having a place where lots of people both live and work IS possible in my opinion

  14. Putting in some long pedestrian/bike/bus/streetcar corridors is the way to go. It can’t just be a block or two, it needs to be like 2-3 dozen total blocks minimum. It needs to be clean and attractive which means it needs to be huge so that the undesirable aspects of downtown are spread out over a huge area, not concentrated into pockets that scare people away from visiting. The master plan should concentrate on connecting the existing ‘pockets’ of vibrancy via corridors.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the vision is going to be there unless downtown experiences a true crash, not just a ‘slowdown’ like is currently ongoing. I hope it will come by the end of the decade as leases continue to expire and not be renewed. I certainly don’t expect anyone in Seattle to be proactive in transitioning downtown Seattle into the truly vibrant place that it could be. Let it crash a bit more and let the stakeholders get desperate so they will be more receptive to what is truly needed.

    I would start with Pike/Pine — the entire stretch from Broadway to the waterfront should be bus/bike/pedestrian-only. Especially if the I-5 lid becomes a reality, which it should.Let’s be honest, those streets have been moving in the direction of removing cars for a while, we just haven’t had the guts to fully cut them off yet.

    Second priority is a pedestrian corridor that extends from the stadiums to Belltown/SLU/Seattle Center. In a dream world, this is 1st Ave with the CCC providing a non-walking/biking option. I would leave the 3rd Ave busway alone.

  15. There are a couple simple things we can do as individuals to at least improve the situation on transit:

    (1) Be sure to wear a mask when on board or waiting in a crowd. Obviously. To do otherwise is lacking empathy for the health and safety of one’s fellow riders. If you are worried about your own immune system, I highly recommend acquiring a supply of N95 masks. In the days of endless variants, there is no substitute for mass masking to create crowd immunity.

    (2) Thank every transit employee you pass by for wearing a mask. Thank the operator as you board. Thank the station security. Reinforce their pro-social behavior.

    For daily tasks that involve being out and about, primary one is grocery shopping. Store workers don’t get to work at home, and none of them had any say in their stores’ mask policies. PCC at least polled their employees on whether employees should be required to wear masks, after they had already lifted the requirement for shoppers. Uh, gee, thanks, I guess. As a still-irate-at-management member of PCC, I can confirm that the membership was never polled about store mask policy.

    At any rate, same thing as on transit. Please, please, please, always wear a mask when in a grocery store. It really isn’t that difficult to do for just a half hour. You don’t know who in the store is immunologically vulnerable, so just assume they are there. When in line, you can ask the clerk to wear a mask, and most will comply. Those that don’t will probably get a “See me” note from their manager. And thank the clerk for wearing a mask. Hopefully, for their own protection, it is N95.

    For those brave enough to deal with restaurants, delivery and take-out are definitely still a thing. (And delivery and curb-side pick-up are definitely still a thing at grocery stores.) But to know whether the food is actually completely safe to eat, there is no substitute for actually getting to see the kitchen. If the first thing you see is a maitre d who is at their post and not wearing a mask, move on to the next restaurant. Yes, this can seriously limit the number of restaurants at which one can eat, but think of it as solidarity for the restaurants that are truly looking out for the health and safety of their employees. Lots of restaurants are going under. You get to help choose which ones go under and which ones survive. If you want to get back to life like it was in the before times, please help the safe restaurants survive and let the superspreader restaurants go away.

  16. I have to partially disagree with the premise of the post. I believe most (not all) workers will eventually be comfortable returning to work in an office environment, one with good air filtration and plexiglass and other barriers still in place, and data showing COVID is no longer a threat. We’re not there yet. Pronouncements from politicians or the CDCP Board (which is unfortunately more a political than scientific body) saying we are there won’t make it so.

    Making transit less of a pigsty of masklessness would certainly help ridership, but not as well as simply wiping out the virus would. I don’t think it is a certainty COVID will be with us forever. The numbers are dropping at a noticeable pace, which probably has pharmaceutical executives in a bit of a panic.

    1. Whether masking is the right decision today I don’t think Covid or lack of masks are the reason employees prefer to WFH.

      Compare the reluctance to commute to an office today and participation in congregate social things like travel, flying, attending sporting events, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, where almost everyone is not masked. Those non-work gatherings have returned to pre-pandemic.

      The preference for WFH mainly has to do with commuting on public transit two hours day when that time is not compensated (plus the time to get ready for work). The other factor is whether the commute to a work destination someone wants to go to anyway, whether a suburban office park, downtown Bellevue, or Seattle. I think a bit also has to do with a nesting attitude creeping in, and the fact a lot of folks in the office are not the folks you would choose to hang out with.

      If employers want employees to return to the office they will have to address these issues, like compensating employees for travel time, part time office work, subsidizing parking, or locating to an area the employees want to spend time during lunch or after work.

      The good news is Covid is transmitted by vapor particles and those droplets are larger than the pores in a good mask so the wearer has pretty good protection even if others are not masked.

      1. Compare the reluctance to commute to an office today and participation in congregate social things like travel, flying, attending sporting events, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, where almost everyone is not masked. Those non-work gatherings have returned to pre-pandemic.

        Transit ridership is still down significantly. As is sports attendance. Restaurants are struggling more than ever, and frankly, they are doing it to themselves by not meeting former customers’ standards of comfort, and successfully lobbying for laxer safety standards. Grocery stores are generally not an optional outing, and the grocers are acting in solidarity with each to support a race to the bottom on health protections.

        Most riders are voting with their masks to be safe, outside of sportsball time. The same is still true in grocery stores, but varying by store.

        Airline ridership is still noticeably down from pre-pandemic. Granted, more people may be avoiding flying for climate reasons (and I suspect that is a small number, and was already there pre-pandemic), but the industry is well below recovery, even pretending population is static. Hiring problems persist. But like office work, there are only so many people willing to take jobs where they will be in the line of fire of other people’s respirations all day long.

        I still believe the government can make a difference in restoring the economy by bringing back mask requirements where they can have the biggest impact. The federal government won’t, but local governments should pay attention not just to what proportion of people out and about are wearing or not wearing masks, but also what proportion of people are still not out and about. They should listen to the At-Home Majority and do something to help them feel safe being out and about.

        Indeed, lots of elected officials are a part of that at-home majority, when they are able to do their meetings by Zoom.

      2. Restaurants have more customers than they can find staff for. SeaTac is back to its pre-pandemic usage or close, and the authorities keep telling us we need another airport or we’ll exceed capacity soon. The labor shortage is nationwide in many industries, and is related to several demographic factors and a lower immigration rate.

      3. There is at least one counterexample on the sportsball front: Last year was a banner year for NWSL attendance. The expansion side Angel City almost immediately sold out the Banc of California Stadium on season tickets (20K seats). The San Diego Wave opened up its new Snapdragon Stadium by filling up all 32K seats (for the stadium opener, but no matches since). Someone should be kicking themselves that a brand new stadium holding only 20K fans was built in downtown LA, when their fan demand is closer to filling up most of the Coliseum. Downtowns remain the best place for sportsball teams to maximize fan attendance, while stadia remain one of the lowest and worst uses of downtown real estate.

      4. I don’t know what the real immigration rate is, but employers may be doing a better job of not hiring employees without proof of citizenship or a green card. Some employers will still continue to choose illegal employees or employees who depend on proof of having a job as opportunities for paying less than the minimum wage under the table. Maybe enforcement of labor laws has become a thing again, or more against the employer than the employees.

        Even if some restaurants are back up to full capacity, the house rules allowing rampant masklessness do impact ability to find jobtakers. In that regard, the restaurant lobby’s success is still the cause of its own woes.

        Let us not forget that the governor allowed restaurants to re-open to di(n)e-in, before restaurant employees were eligible for the vaccine. He did the same thing for teachers, but the WEA screamed, and the teachers got to the front of the vaccine line. Restaurant workers got no such help. It will forever be one of the marks of shame on the Inslee administration.

      5. The preference for WFH mainly has to do with commuting on public transit two hours day when that time is not compensated (plus the time to get ready for work).

        Was there a preference for WFH before the pandemic? Has the parking run out for office commuters? Do people really do Zoom meetings in their pajamas?

  17. Different angle: How have the commutes and work presence been for Seattle non-office workers? Machinists, tradespeople and the like can’t work from home; are they making up a larger percentage of transit commuters with many white-collar professionals now opting for remote work?

  18. The transit agencies also shouldn’t be relying on RTO to return their ridership to what it was pre-pandemic. Remote work took a significant leap in prominence since then, only some of which has “regressed” to hybrid. For the first group of people, and some of the second, they’re working multiple jobs that way, which this new work life more easily facilitates much easier than an in-office situation does (I know, from personal experience, and I even utilized transit between them much of the time!). The “commutes to Seattle, and only Seattle” basis for transits is forever altered. Mid-day connections are now sought more. Destinations, something that I’ve espoused for decades, is now in view for many more as desirable vs. those who merely gave up on any chance of transit serving them. Connecting job centers, but only on corridors, is an outdated concept now, and the nimblest transit agencies (if any) are the ones that will be the most successful in changing their tunes and therefore getting more riders. Further, smaller vehicles and flexible routes may become more in vogue. Unfortunately, leaders of these agencies aren’t accountable to the public, they’re only adept at spending other people’s money (ours), and it will take a significant amount of prodding to get them “off the time” and “up with the times.” Times are a’changing, for certain!

    1. And let’s hope there is never again a reason to run hundreds of one way bus trips into downtown Seattle, and clog all the streets and occupy all the parking spots for only a few hours a day. The whole thing is incredibly wasteful.

      1. It’s not wasteful. It’s economies of agglomeration at work -the fundamental economic reason why cities exist.

        Technology may allow firms to realize these benefits with employees in downtown offices fewer days per week than was necessary in the past. They hardly means this organically occurring flow of people to downtown wasn’t efficient. It happened everywhere precisely because it was efficient.

    2. Sadly, “smaller vehicles and flexible routes” are basically cab service. It doesn’t scale and the private sector is better at running it. Transit should be on developed arterials and link activity centers. Sure, there have to be “coverage” tails out in the boonies, but don’t expect many people to ride.

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