Seattle is currently soliciting input until the end of February for phase 2 of their Transportation Plan engagement efforts: – Seattle should strive to become a city of 15min neighborhoods and if necessary use ultra-high frequency transit such as urban gondola lines, people movers, funiculars or 3min BRT lines on dedicated lanes to bridge the gaps.

Nat Henry did a great job mapping Seattle out in how close we are to the 15-minute neighborhood goal. If we continue to increase density and allow corner stores and retail on ground level, I expect that market forces will close some of the current holes. I’m concerned about the pending grocery mergers: the mayor may want to reach out to small-store grocery chains (e.g. Aldi) which focus more on walk-in customers rather than car users.

Nat’s map shows the current gaps clearly. For example, Georgetown, Alki, and Eastlake lack a grocery store. Other neighborhoods are far from schools.

I suggest Seattle consider the following measures in the Seattle Transportation Plan:

  • Build ultra-high frequency transit to connect 15-minute neighborhoods to each other and their closest Link station. This “extends” the Link network to neighborhoods not immediately on it (like Lake City and Bitter Lake around 130th Station) and can extend the range of services available within a 15-minute trip, and turn a non-15-minute neighborhood into a 15-minute one. Connecting that way to Link effectively expands the walkshed of a light rail station and would provide high frequency transit to those neighborhoods. Kirkland is considering connecting their new TOD neighborhood along I-405/85th with their downtown restaurants/library etc. via gondola for that very reason.
  • Middle and high schools often offer after-school activities which students can’t attend if they depend on a school bus and its limited schedule. College class schedules vary widely. Some colleges have good transit connections. Others lack them and force students to get a car. How about if we focus on safe walk/bike routes and – instead of funding school buses –we build out our transit network so we don’t need school buses, possibly via ultra-high frequency transit? That way students would get used to riding transit early.
  • Colleges may not be in every neighborhood, but they must be well served by transit so that students don’t need to get a car. South Seattle College has facilities in West Seattle and Georgetown, both are difficult to reach in particular if you need to get from one class to another in a different facility. What if we would focus connecting them to each other and to Link either by very high frequency buses or ultra-high frequency transit?
  • Hospitals are not in every neighborhood either, but should be easily accessible for employees, patients and visitors, not just by infrequent buses which may be difficult to board if you have mobility issues. How about if Northwest Hospital and Kaiser on Capitol Hill would be connected to the Link stations close by?

Please take some time to provide your input to the city at:

220 Replies to “Seattle Transportation Plan: How to achieve a 15min city with the help of ultra-high frequency transit”

  1. > Build ultra-high frequency transit to connect 15-minute neighborhoods to each other and their closest Link station…
    > urban gondola lines, people movers, funiculars or 3min BRT lines on dedicated lanes to bridge the gaps.

    It’s a bit unclear what exactly you want us to suggest Seattle to implement. ‘ultra-high frequency transit’ without a specific proposal?

    Honestly the only way to get dedicated right of way without intersections at an affordable rate would be elevated (for gondola/people movers/light metro etc…). However, while I am quite fine with elevated alignments, Seattle and many other American cities have been heavily against elevated alignments. I mean this is partly why MLK wasn’t elevated in the first place. Or why Link wasn’t routed on highway 99 and instead is on i5 for most alignments.

    Regarding BRT, that’s a bit simpler — bring back the Rapidrides back on schedule with some relatively modest funding. I don’t quite understand the ultra-frequent short bus route proposal though, barring automation it doesn’t really make sense to allocate so many bus drivers?

    1. Sound Transit has been building quite a bit of elevated rail lines recently, but I agree they require space which may not always be available. People movers such as the BART Oakland airport connector is not as intrusive, but ultimately gondolas would be much easier to integrate into an existing neighborhood as they just need a few towers and a few stations which may even be located above an intersection.

      1. If neighborhoods go along with gondolas at all, the first thing they will demand is that the outside view from the gondola be blocked, so nobody can see any portion of someone’s single-family neighborhood backyard.

      2. The main reason Seattle’s elevated rail segments require a lot of space is because they build them alongside instead of right above the existing wide roadways. There would be more short term disruption to car traffic, sure, but in the long term not eating up as much space would be huge. Not to mention it sets up constant, unnecessary battles with current property owners, the latest of which being the Alderwood Community Church along the Lynnwood – West Alderwood segment, and of course West Seattle (just build above Fauntleroy itself!).

      3. Brandon, Sound Transit states as the main reason that they don’t like building in the center of the road the fact that it makes left turns more difficult. Yes, it’s a tradeoff, but I still think it would be better. You may need to increase column spacing once in a while, but that should be fine.

      4. I doubt WSDOT would grant airspace leases above I-5. The risk is too great. I-5 is the central north/south artery for this region, and any mishap could kill motorists. And as Brandon notes the disruption to car and freight traffic would be too great. Is there any place in the U.S. where transit is built over an interstate? Where do you put the concrete supports?

        As it is the land directly alongside I-5 and 405 is still owned by WSDOT but not attractive to a developer so the leases —- which according to law must be market rate — are still relatively low. Usually like on MI when WSDOT is done with a project like I-90 the “linear” lands WSDOT got from the DOT are granted to the city with deed restrictions requiring the land remain park or if sold the proceeds go to WSDOT.

        Running transit above streets requires concrete supports, which as on 5th reduce traffic capacity and can be dangerous. Which is why WS and Ballard want their Link underground despite the cost, and Seattle balked at an elevated monorail running down 2nd.

      5. How is running transit over an Interstate different from building bridges? Yes, they also increase risks but it’s all manageable. Road bridges and people movers would need support in the middle of the freeway, gondolas may span the whole distance without any support.

      6. “Is there any place in the U.S. where transit is built over an interstate?”

        There are train bridges over interstates all over the place in the US.

        You have a short memory if you don’t remember the amtrak crash that landed on I-5.

      7. @Daniel Thompson

        > I doubt WSDOT would grant airspace leases above I-5. The risk is too great. I-5 is the central north/south artery for this region, and any mishap could kill motorists.

        I’m a bit confused, are you talking about elevated in middle of a freeway above the car lanes? Typically it’s just in median of the freeway (at grade/trenched similar to the freeway) with flyovers to enter/exit or to cross intersections. That’s how the LA green line or the DC wmata silver line works.

        > Running transit above streets requires concrete supports, which as on 5th reduce traffic capacity and can be dangerous

        It’s not that dangerous? I mean that’s what chicago currently has and what new york used to have. Even lots of Tokyo’s train routes are really elevated through their avenues.

        Also if we’re really talking about road safety we’d be talking about fixing aurora or rainier avenue it seems a bit misleading to say we don’t build elevated because one cares about road safety issues and then have these other avenues prioritizing car speeds.

      8. @Brandon
        > The main reason Seattle’s elevated rail segments require a lot of space is because they build them alongside instead of right above the existing wide roadways. There would be more short term disruption to car traffic, sure, but in the long term not eating up as much space would be huge.

        Yeah definitely agree. Even for example the West-Seattle to Ballard possibly could have been built on 1st/2nd avenue (a bit of a harder thing).

        But let’s say the other sections West Seattle alignment should have been on Fauntleroy especially the station rather than demolishing an apartment building. Same for Ballard station. Actually it is a bit curious in the recent alternatives for underground station alignment they are willing to take away 2 lanes on 15th avenue but not for the elevated station alignment.

      9. WL, my understanding was the question was whether Link could run over freeways like I-5, not in the medians. I don’t know whether there is sufficient median space from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond, or how that space will be used in the future.

        I also don’t know how people would get to the stations if in the middle of I-5. Another issue would be noise at the stations. MI’s station sits between 8 lanes of I-90 and needed a variance from federal noise limits. My guess is the station platform, which is narrow and fairly small, will be unpleasant, as would any station in the middle of a freeway, not unlike the pedestrian bridge at Northgate.

        I also don’t understand what the use of the land where Link is currently built would be if Link had been built in the medians. I think much is owned by WSDOT so leases would need approval. Are we talking TOD right next to I-5 where Link is now? Or park and rides. Or less unpleasantness for adjacent property owners? People don’t mind parking next to a freeway but usually don’t like living next to a freeway.

        Finally I agree with some like Ross who think basically mirroring our freeways with Link’s route to save cost was probably an unwise decision because few people live along I-5, probably because it is noisy, and now ST is relying on TOD or feeder buses. A good example is the line from a Capitol Hill to Northgate that does not mirror I-5 and accesses (albeit underground) major population and ridership clusters that are hard to get to by car or park there because that is where people want to go.

        But Stride will be built in the center of 405 from Renton to Bellevue because it is much cheaper than Link and 405 was being redone anyway (in many areas to convert medians into lanes) so it will be interesting to see how that works. Some may argue we could have saved a fortune by using Stride for those areas of Link that run alongside I-5 or would run in the median and use underground Link for urban areas and service the population clusters with the route.

        But Link is mostly built so all of this is theoretical unless we are talking about WSBLE, and the major issue there is the stakeholders want Link underground like from U District to Northgate. I can’t blame them if there is the money.

      10. ST, it still amazes me that the MI station didn’t become a lid all the way across I90. Was this ever discussed?

        It would have not only made it possible to have a quieter station, but it could have been an amazing community plaza like those found in Italy. It could spawn adjacent restaurants and coffee shops and maybe had a fountain or a monument and a kids area.

        Sure a lid isn’t cheap. I imagine it was discussed and nixed.

        PS. I still think a lid plaza is also needed at N 130th St too. That site is squeezed and I5 will be very very loud there.

    2. Ultra-frequent is a phrase some of us use for “more frequent than 15 minutes”. Examples are the 10-minute 45, 65, and 67 in 2019, the 7-minute 71/72/73X before Link, and Metro’s 7.5 minute 2S and 3S proposed in 2010s restructures. Martin mentions 3-minute gondolas or BRT: that would be a higher level, the most ideal.

    3. “Seattle and many other American cities have been heavily against elevated alignments.”

      That was for Link and the Monorail. These would be smaller. We could start with corridors that have extraordinary physical barriers and aren’t in residential areas. A line from West Seattle to SODO and Beacon Hill would bypass a hard-to-cross river and highways and cliffs, and in the industrial district nobody cares about elevated infrastructure because it’s all industrial anyway.

    4. Seattle and many other American cities have been heavily against elevated alignments.

      Actually Seattle was heavily in favor of an elevated alignment. Think about it. A plan that many in the transit community thought could never be built gets proposed with no support from elected officials (and outright opposition by some) and it passes three times. It was only when the folks in charge realize they got the funding wrong that it finally failed. I can’t imagine a streetcar having that much success — quite the opposite. Folks wanted elevated transit, it was just a poorly thought out plan for many reasons (being a monorail was one of them).

      1. Come to think of it, there were both supporters and opponents to the elevated alignment. Supporters emphasized the beautiful view of the mountains and water. Opponents focused on the downtown alignment. The original alignment was all on 2nd Avenue from Seattle Center to SODO. 2nd Avenue businesses downtown objected to a monorail in front of their third-floor windows, and the stanchions displacing a parking lane. They got it moved to 5th north of Olive Way, where it would then replace the Alweg monorail.

    5. I think 3-minute BRT doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless you are dealing with crowding or it is part of a spine (i. e. combined with another route). If you are dealing with crowding, then rail makes sense. For example, assume that the 7 finally gets replaced with BRT. The buses run every six minutes and are fairly fast (similar to what the RapidRide G will be). But because of growth and the increased popularity of the bus, it is very crowded during rush hour. So crowded that running every six minutes doesn’t cut it. You need to run buses every four minutes. At that point, there are several choices:

      1) Run a streetcar that has significant more capacity than a bus. (Our streetcars don’t — you would need something more like Link, but with fewer train cars).
      2) Run express buses on the same path. This reduces cost, while giving those riders an even faster trip to where they are headed.
      3) Combine the route with the 48. Both run every six minutes, but along the same corridor they combine for 3 minute headways. This alleviates crowding, as a lot of the riders weren’t headed downtown.
      4) For the same reason, run the 14, 36 and the streetcar more often.
      5) Try to somehow shuttle people to Link, while running Link every 6 minutes.

      Of course all of this is highly unlikely. Even with the expected growth along Rainier Avenue, the corridor isn’t likely to be overwhelmed. Same with similar corridors (Eastlake, etc.). Our buses are big. If you run them every six minutes, they can move a lot of people.

      1. Right before the pandemic the C-line had a few clusters of trips scheduled at 3-4 minute frequency around peak. Bus bunching was always a problem in the evening peak, but in the morning it was rare to wait more than 6 or 7 minutes for bus. It was a real game changer for me to not have to plan my mornings around the bus schedule and if I saw a bus coming while I was walking to the stop I wouldn’t even bother to hurry up to make it on.

        Just last week I tried to take the 50 on a Sunday afternoon and watched the bus zoom by when I was a half block away. The next bus was in 35 minutes. I managed to get creative and piece that trip together with the C and the 128, but any non-transit nerd would have done the sensible thing and taken their car after missing the bus. I feel terrible for people who have to rely on 30+ minute headways…I’m lucky and have options, but if I didn’t it would have been really terrible to have to wait there in the cold for 35 minutes.

  2. I appreciate the ambition, but we can’t even get ST (with its seemingly-bottomless funds) to build worthwhile transit in Seattle – where’s the funding for people movers, gondolas, or other unusual technologies going to come from, and what will guarantee SDOT’s ability to run it effectively? How many lane-miles of red paint could be bought in lieu of a single mile of “ultra-high frequency” transit?

    I think there’s a lot of room within the existing surface ROW to make transit faster and more reliable with tools we know to work already, including bus lanes and queue jumps. All it takes is an iota of bravery from Director Spotts to say “we are going to establish a hierarchy of priority that puts SOVs at the bottom, and unprotected walking/rolling individuals on top”.

    I think a simple “innovation” that would do well in the STP update is Bus + Truck lanes. It has been mentioned before that SDOT is seeing if it can try these out on Westlake, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I would also like to see traffic and parking enforcement performed via semi-automated cameras mounted on buses, like the NYMTA. It should be a $70 fine to impede a bus in a bus lane.

    Another suggestion for the STP would be the expansion of the Trolleybus network, as the rest of the fleet pivots to heavy BEV that will engender more frequent road repairs. With increasing bus weight in mind, SDOT may want to consider the use of red-tinted high-strength concrete in place of red-painted asphalt when upgrading streets to handle high frequencies of heavy vehicles.

    1. Cities all over the world do it, many less affluent than Seattle. A lot of it is priorities, redirecting existing investments and policies. It doesn’t cost much money to prioritize SOVs last, or to be more aggressive about converting lanes to transit priority, or to allow missing-middle housing in a wider area, or to make spot improvements to pedestrian infrastructure.

      The first step is to define what you want long-term: that’s what the comprehensive plan update is about. Then you figure out how to get there incrementally, or what you can’t afford. But you need the first step in any case. That shows you have a definite goal, and a good goal, and it guides decisions, and allows you to jump on any opportunities. Without such a goal, you end up doing things haphazard that don’t add up to anything, or you end up pursuing a goal you didn’t intend, usually status-quo inertia. For instance, the renovations on 35th Ave NE, NE 65th Street, and 23rd shortchanged transit. We could have gotten closer to “BRT” corridors and bike corridors, but status-quo pressure watered it down. If we’d had a definite and firm goal to point to, they’d have been more resistant to being watered down.

      Sound Transit won’t build these because they’re not regional transit. Link serves Roosevelt only because it’s on the way to Lynnwood; ST wouldn’t have built just a line to Roosevelt. Likewise, ST may never get around to the 45th line, but we could do something else there.

      1. It’s arguable that the extensions to Ballard and West Seattle aren’t very regional, either.

        Martin is really excited about alternative transit technologies like intracity maglev and gondolas, but I think the very low-hanging fruit of basic, widespread transit prioritization and pedestrian-safety-oriented street design would have much more immediate and lasting impact.

        Long-term plans are great, but the STP should be focused on the next 5 and 10 years. What can be do now that will support the ever-increasing density of housing, jobs, and culture?

        I think that in maybe 95-99% of Seattle’s streets, we have plenty of right of way to effectively move the demanded volumes of people and goods, but as the STB commentariat generally knows, it can’t all be by SOV and semis – we need to systemically prioritize more efficient forms of transportation.

        Moonshot ideas of gondolas and people movers are worth adding to the plan as potential upgrades to high-density corridors, but a lot of the failings of the current system of siloed modal plans is a lack of coordination between complementary systems that already exist.

        I am musing on the best way to propose revamps of certain major streets in the city with not only “Complete Streets” ideas in mind, but how certain exemplary corridors could be reimagined to materially improve the transportation network of the surrounding neighborhoods. In a perfect world, I’d have access to and could do a dream network for the entire city.

      2. Nathan, I agree that we need to reimagine streets and move away from car centricity to focus on walking and rolling. I don’t think is an either/or proposition, how about if we do both? is trying to do this in Switzerland, what do you think?

      3. I think I’m just a bit disillusioned in regard to ideas that some fancy new technology will solve our problems, when tried-and-true solutions are all around.

        Sure, a bus lane isn’t as “sexy” as a fancy gondola or a novel monorail, but I’m also a bit disillusioned by SDOT’s ability to walk and look forward without tripping on cracks.

        I just don’t want the push for aerial transit to distract from the need for better streets. If transit riders are going to be whisked around overhead, why bother with transit priority on the ground?

      4. I just don’t want the push for aerial transit to distract from the need for better streets. If transit riders are going to be whisked around overhead, why bother with transit priority on the ground?

        I don’t think even the biggest gondola proponent thinks it will replace the buses. For that matter, the same is true for rail in this town. The buses will continue to do a lot of the work — and most likely, most of the work. I don’t think we will ever get to the point where the trains carry more people (unless the bus system collapses). I see the gondola push either being independent, or being proposed as an alternative to some of the rail plans (e. g. West Seattle Link). I’m not saying I agree with that idea (I think buses make the most sense for West Seattle) but that is what I’ve seen.

    2. Link takes decades to plan and build whereas the Kirkland gondola I mentioned is estimated to cost $81 million and could be built in about a year, that’s less than some RapidRide projects or adding trolley wire. Trolleybuses are great, but they still need plenty of drivers for ultra-high frequency service, something a people mover or gondola does not. In a sense ultra-high frequency transit can expand the reach of Link to more neighborhoods while connecting neighboring neighborhoods to form 15min clusters.

  3. This is what I always meant by urban villages and connecting the villages. When I lived in the U-District, everything I needed was there: supermarket, restaurants, gym, library, hardware store, bookstores, cafes, friends’ apartments, parks, etc. When I wanted one of the few things the neighborhood didn’t have, I could find it in Roosevelt, Ballard, Capitol Hill, Greenwood, or Northgate. I worked outside the neighborhood but one of my roommates worked as a short-order cook at one of the restaurants.

    For this to work, you need a walkable neighborhood with a variety of destinations, and fast/frequent transit to neighboring villages. The 44 isn’t fast. Link is fast, now that the Northgate extension is open. If we’re not going to have Link between all villages, we need something better than the status quo between them. And we need to fill in the missing amenities in smaller villages.

    1. Mike Orr,

      I’m a huge fan of the 15 minute city, walkable streets, riding bikes and basically living like I’m in Europe. The U-District rocks…. or it did rock before it started getting real sketchy and smelling like pee.

      Sound Transit is the enemy of the 15 minute city. Sound Transit is founded on the belief that you can’t just stay in your neighborhood… you got a train it catch! That costs billions of your tax dollars for a “rail spine”

      I still believe in The Republic of Fremont!

      Good urban planning should try to keep people from using transit… at a least shorten any transit trip. Design things that are nice enough so people want to stay and hang out.

      Here’s the #1 15 minute City in America. Really, this town is great, there’s no need to own a car. If you work remotely in Greater Seattle, move here and receive at least a 25% boost in real take-home pay.

    2. “Sound Transit is the enemy of the 15 minute city. Sound Transit is founded on the belief that you can’t just stay in your neighborhood”

      Europe has both walkable cities and comprehensive regional transit. Even the best neighborhoods can’t meet everybody’s needs all the time. Unique businesses and individual friends are only in one location. Touring bands play at only one venue per region or country. Spouses work in different places. When I was in Düsseldorf in 1998, there was a local U-Bahn in the first ring of cities; an S-Bahn connecting Essen, Dortmond, Düsseldorf, Wuppertal, and Cologne; an SE train to Aachen; and intercity and express trains. And all of them were busy. Any city of 720,000 next to a city of 100,000 will have a lot of people traveling both within each city and between them, for thousands of different reasons.

      Link has been faulted for being a too-long hybrid system, but that’s really a secondary issue. The primary issue is that we have a train that can get from downtown to the U-District in 6 minutes and runs every 8-10 minutes, and we’ll eventually be able to travel grade-separated every 8-10 minutes to Redmond, Everett, and Tacoma. That’s a whole lot better than congestion-prone express buses every 15-30 minutes, and even more better than when those express buses didn’t exist (1995). Most American cities don’t even have something like ST Express, much less Link or S-Bahn/U-Bahn or comparable BRT. That’s the main point. The fact that Link is a mediocre expensive hybrid is secondary.

      And Sound Transit’s mandate is regional transit, so it’s not surprising it doesn’t have local routes or upgrade the sidwalks so you don’t need transit. That’s other agencies’ jobs; ST is fulfilling one necessary niche.

      1. I’ve ridden bicycles all over low Germany, Denmark, a little of Sweden and a little of Poland. The rail system is fantastic… same with the ferry system and buses. There’s a gazillion miles of bike paths as well.

        I have to respectfully disagree about Sound Transit being a regional rail company. It doesn’t serve Olympia or Yakima. As far as I can tell, Sound Transit is a tunneling company. Sound transit views tunnels underneath Seattle as a regional asset that’s more important than any other asset. How much of Sound Transit’s budget has been spent digging holes? A tunnel from West Seattle to Ballard is not a regional asset. The Link in Tacoma…. not a regional asset.

        Right now, there’s not a chance in hell that Sound Transit doesn’t dig a second tunnel downtown and shifts the money to buses, or bike lanes, or anything that makes neighborhoods better and promotes this “15 minute city” idea. It really is a good idea. Sound transit wants to build another tunnel 200 feet under Seattle. Not a good idea.

        Sound Transit was a deal with the devil. It’s locking up money for decades in a vision that just isn’t that helpful for current conditions. People who read this blog are just starting to realize what a bad idea Sound Transit was from day one.

      2. @tacomee

        > I have to respectfully disagree about Sound Transit being a regional rail company. It doesn’t serve Olympia or Yakima.

        Yakima is much much farther and is firmly in the ‘intercity’ though honestly the ridership wouldn’t be that high. Olympia it might reach there .

        > As far as I can tell, Sound Transit is a tunneling company.

        I’m a bit surprised at this impression? most of the money has been spent on freeway alignments along i-5. Even the downtown tunnel was built for busses first and the only real new tunnel segments is at beacon hill and from westlake to northgate.

        > A tunnel from West Seattle to Ballard is not a regional asset. The Link in Tacoma…. not a regional asset.

        I agree the West Seattle/Ballard tunnel really isn’t actually regional. Though I am very confused what exactly your definition of regional transit is then, you’ll accept Olympia but not Tacoma?

        > Sound Transit was a deal with the devil. It’s locking up money for decades in a vision that just isn’t that helpful for current conditions.

        I agree with this, the second tunnel really wasn’t thought out correctly. Kinda wished they moved forward with the 1st avenue at-grade alternatives instead for the West Seattle/Ballard. And just used express busses/turnbacks for peak times

      3. I wouldn’t call Sound Transit a tunneling company — but I would call it a “design” and “build” company. Publishing pretty diagrams and talking about new stations is the most interesting part of transit and that inspires people.

        However, ST appears terribly ill-prepared to operate and maintain anything. They contract out drivers. They are facing many station maintenance issues — vertical device failures, skimping on enough vertical device installations to save a modest amount of money while blowing billions elsewhere, screwing up service for weeks to merely repair platform tiles at a station, elevators used as bathrooms, fare violators and other belligerent riders, etc.

        There will be a huge lull in new openings after 2025-6. The next major extensions are not scheduled until 2032 — and seeing the related budget and property acquisition and utility + mitigation prep and complex construction challenges seem to even put WSLE and TDLE back to at least 2035 (even though ST won’t admit that delay yet). BLE and DSTT2 seem to be unattainable until the 2040’s and ELE and Issaquah-Kirkland will barely be used by anyone outside of the immediate station areas so the general public won’t care.

        So in 2027, the STB (if it continues) will be full of posts complaining about all the awful daily operations and maintenance problems of ST. Board members will find more and more of the meetings will be taken up trying to fix failing daily operation problems with stations as well as trains. Unless Timm can bust the current staff smugness and arrogance and excuses to do what they want at whatever cost and disruption to riders they want, the Board will eventually have to hire a replacement who actually has “run a railroad” as well as maintained stations. The next CEO will have to ride the staff much harder than the ones in the past.

        In 2015, ST maintained just 5 stations with vertical devices, and by 2026 that jumps to at least 25. Weekday usage will grow from 40K in 2015 to somewhere between 220K to 300K by 2026 and that’s a lot more daily wear on the system and a lot more users that will get angry at daily operational problems.

        Because Board members run for re-election, they don’t think about their image after 2026. But weak ST operations oversight in 2026 could wreck quite a lot of political careers of Board members don’t change the way the system gets run.

      4. When my employer has handed stuff over for operation, there has never been anyone from SoundTransit. Operations and subcontractors but never ST. No idea of our maintenance docs ever made it to the people who needed them.

        TriMet was vastly different. They always had someone around, and even had their engineering staff change parts of a specification that were inappropriate for the conditions and would have added a lot of cost (basically it was obvious consultant LTK had cut and pasted something from a different operator, but TriMet had overlooked it among the hundreds of pages).

      5. “I have to respectfully disagree about Sound Transit being a regional rail company.”

        The word “regional” is ambiguous. Link, Sounder, and Cascades are all called “regional” but are at different scales. The US has no official regions unlike some other countries, so different people use the word differently. I’m using ST’s meaning when talking about ST.

        ST was created to provide “regional transit”: that’s defined as connecting the principle cities and PSRC growth centers with express transit within its service area.

        “As far as I can tell, Sound Transit is a tunneling company”

        It backed into tunneling. Link’s original vision was all surface except where topography precluded it, like previous American light rails. Later in ST1 the cities turned against surface, so everything became elevated or tunneled or a freeway alignment. This reversed only in Bel-Red, to pay for Bellevue’s downtown tunnel.

        So the primary thing is cities/counties demanding Link to them. ST defers to them and does so.

        “Sound transit views tunnels underneath Seattle as a regional asset that’s more important than any other asset”

        ST defines downtown Seattle as the center and crossroads of the region, as does every other transit metro. Chicago’s network converges on the Loop, London on central London, New York on lower Manhattan, the DC Metro on the federal mall area. Those are the single largest travel patterns, a centerpoint for transfers, and a major multimodal node (Amtrak, Greyhound, ferries). All subareas benefit from this, so they all contribute to it.

        Downtown Seattle is arguably too congested for surface Link, and elevated is widely opposed on aesthetics, so the result is underground downtown.

        “I would call [Sound Transit] a “design” and “build” company. ”

        Yes. ST decided to contract out operations and focus on capital projects and planning. The only thing it operates directly is the T line, because Pierce Transit didn’t have rail experience (while Metro operated the SLU streetcar).

        “The Link in Tacoma…. not a regional asset.”

        Well, no, but that shows that ST is more than just the narrow definition above.

      6. The problem IS ST is a regional transit agency, but the “region” is so large and undense ST built Link — not a regional technology — to sparsely populated areas that will be slooooooow.

        ST knew this, which is why it has claimed huge future population growth estimates and ridership estimates. The “region” never supported light rail from end to end.

        After around 115 miles of Link — with few stations in urban Seattle — Link connects very few people let alone riders anywhere near its termini, whether it is Everett and Tacoma (if Link gets there), Redmond, Federal Way, Fife, Lynnwood, Shoreline, with even less in between so that Link depends upon TOD along freeways, or a massive bus feeder system the local transit agencies can’t afford, or park and rides, plus 1-3 transfers. WS and Ballard are part of the “region” but neither supports the cost of Link, capital or farebox recovery.

        Basically outside downtown Seattle ST built Sounder 2.0 but without the BNSF ROW’s.

        The flaw was “regional” is a vague term as Mike states. Virtually any area is a region, or regional. But in transit terms regional means there are lots of people and riders at both (or 3-5) ends of expensive high capacity transit like Link. Surely ST should have known this simply by looking at the subarea revenue for Pierce, SnoCo and S. King.

        You build Link until you run out of people and riders. Link should be about 30 miles when all said and done if it had stopped where ridership and population ended. Or built a much less expensive system.

  4. One of the problems with getting elevated alignments accepted is the noise issue. The most popular transit line construction method in the USA is to affix the rails to concrete plinths. This results in the entire structure acting like a resonating board.

    There are a number of different construction methods that are able to reduce the noise level, including everything from using traditional ballasted track on bridge structures to encasing the track in planters to absorb the noise. One section of MAX uses a transparent sound barrier.

    With Link using track isolation panels under the UW, it seems like ST already has some experience with alternative track installation methods. A combination of that plus methods used elsewhere could lower noise levels to the point where it gains further acceptance.

    1. Sound proofing can certainly help, but it won’t change the fact that it’s metal wheel on metal track. Paris tried rubber wheels, but the ride quality sucks. Current monorail technology has the same issue. With maglev trains that’s so much easier as the train doesn’t touch the track. In fact the track gets much easier if you don’t have to worry about sound barriers/shields. With a gondola you only have wheels at each tower, no noise sources for most of the way.

      1. I’m not as skeptical of urban gondolas as others and think they would work fine, but there just really lacks the political will to accept building them in the usa (especially along useful corridors).

        As a sidenote, I checked out and you could probably flesh out the problem with Link more concretely. I don’t think many people not following transit realize that with current West Seattle link plan say to reach eastside you’ll have to transfer to Alaskan Junction link transfer again at Sodo and then transfer at chinatown to go eastbound.

      2. It’s true that gondolas are quiet. Of course there are related quiet cable technologies like funiculars or inclines as well as pinched loop systems like the BART connector to OAK.

        Ironically, there was a cable incline to First Hill 100 years ago (however it didn’t have level boarding). It got ripped out!

      3. WL, it looks like is moving ahead and in the wider North American market there is more interest: Mexico City has built multiple lines and is working on more and Vancouver/Burnaby seems determined to move ahead while Pittsburgh, WashDC, San Diego are still not quite sure whether to move ahead with their plans.
        Yes, SkyLink team has pointed that out, but the comparison should be more specific.

      4. @MartinP

        It is hopeful that some of these urban gondola’s make it to north america.

        > Yes, SkyLink team has pointed that out, but the comparison should be more specific.

        I’ll be honest, I think you’re (or whoever’s in charge of the site) is kinda underselling the urban gondola and should be selling it much harder. I’m not even that much of a fan of the urban gondola, but do recognize it’s advantages and kinda feel like the site is dropping the ball hard.

        For example on that comparison page. I’d highlight the construction impact difference much more with perhaps a map of pylons the light rail would have versus the urban gondola. And really highlight the transfer penalty compare a couple actual trips, like say from Morgan Junction over to downtown Seattle.

        Like: The West Seattle Link will make most transit trips longer than before with many C line trips changing a 1-seat trip into a 3-seat trip with much longer wait times even increasing the total travel time. You’ll have to transfer at Alaskan Junction, then again Sodo. Or even after the new tunnel is built to transfer to the Eastside will involve a heavy transfer penalty at Chinatown… etc Versus the the urban gondola which will reach all areas beyond just Alaskan Junction fewer road impacts and rather than an 8 minute wait will run continuously.

    2. I think it mostly comes down to geography. Gondolas are ideal if:

      1) They have a geographic advantage in some way. A natural obstacle (like a lake) or even an unnatural one (like a freeway). It may be that the street grid is not at all straightforward going that direction (this is the case with really hilly areas). That sort of thing.

      2) Very strong connection between two points. Gondolas can serve multiple points of course, but you don’t gain much. In contrast, other forms of transit get much cheaper the more stops you have.

      3) All-day, consistent demand between the points. Gondolas don’t have huge capacity, so they aren’t well suited for huge peaks and valleys when it comes to ridership. Likewise, the great headways of gondolas are lost if there is no one at the station for long periods of time.

      4) Relatively short distance, but more than folks usually walk. Gondolas aren’t particularly fast, but if they aren’t going that far, it doesn’t matter.

      It doesn’t mean you absolutely need all of these for a gondola to be successful, but it means the more you have like this, the better.

      1. The only time I’ve seen a gondola make sense in a transit context is Burnaby Mountain in Burnaby, BC to connect Simon Fraser University to Production Way-University Station. The gondola is intended to fix the problem that is buses have difficulty traversing up the mountain, in paticular in rainy or winter weather. Or building a new skytrain line wouldn’t work for how deep the portal and tunnel would have to be in relation to Simon Fraser University on the summit of Burnaby Mountain. But in other contexts, it doesn’t make much sense. It wouldn’t make sense for West Seattle, and I have never thought it made sense for Portland when a tunnel to OHSU would’ve been a better investment as part of a SW Portland extension.
        Gondolas to me are glorified gadgetbahns that really don’t address transit in any meaningful way outside of very select contexts. There’s good reason why it’s not a popular means of transit outside of Switzerland due to the country’s geography.

      2. There’s good reason why it’s not a popular means of transit outside of Switzerland due to the country’s geography.

        When I think of urban gondolas, I think South America, not Switzerland. The gondola system for La Paz carries over a quarter million a day, and once topped half a million. I would say that is popular. That doesn’t mean they make sense in every situation, but they certainly do there.

        It wouldn’t make sense for West Seattle

        No, but then neither does light rail, but we are building it anyway.

    1. David is correct. In transit ridership modeling, the coefficient for waiting is about twice that for walking or in-vehicle time. It bears on the network design tradeoff between frequency and coverage.

  5. A very important aspect of 15 minute walk access is not only having frequent transit but being able to reach it quickly.

    I’ve long felt that station access to Link is sometimes really foolishly ignored in that regard. Both ST and the City don’t seem to care very much about expanding station entrances to be before major streets. It started with the hassle of stations parked in the middle of MLK and terrible challenges getting between the Metro stops and Link in Mt Baker. But no agency was later able to make the UW hospital connect to the UW station or have a U District station entrance north of 45th. Aurora is so wide and high-speed that the arterial parts feel like a freeway.

    The big exception is the John Lewis ped bridge at Northgate — but someone needs earplugs to use it regularly or they will go deaf after awhile! That bridge is so obviously needed that it should have always been part of the original station design rather than an afterthought. The bridge designers should actually be shamed for designing a structure above 11 lanes of freeway traffic without some sound absorption — a major negligent design flaw.

    Finally, there is still no discussion about ways to get up and down steep hills easily and faster — even Downtown. I know that public escalators, elevators and even cable inclines are not cheap to build or maintain — but they certainly could help expand how far someone could walk in 15 minutes in the densest parts of our city.

    Of course, it comes down to money. A 15-minute neighborhood is appealing to promise in a policy document full of platitudes — but it takes lots of money in sidewalks and other treatments to make the promise a reality.

    1. The Northgate ped bridge was already $20 million as is. Adding soundproofing would have added to that considerably, to the point where we’d likely end up with no bridge at all. Wearing earplugs or noise cancelling headphones – or simply running across to get through the very loud section more quickly, is a much cheaper solution.

      1. The bridge was also downscaled from the original design. It is possible it would have been quieter if they had adopted the original plans. But that would have cost a lot more. That wasn’t the only problem. It was a bit of a boondoggle.

      2. How can something so useful be called a boondoggle? It was a godsend to the west side. I worked at an office building at 107th & Meridian, and I had to walk around to Northgate Way to get to the bus to the U-District. (Or take the 16 to the 48, or walk to 85th and take the 48.) The closest other street across the freeway was at 92nd.

      3. @Mike Orr,

        It’s not a boondoggle. And I can’t imagine why anyone would call it that.

        Why would anyone call such a essential piece of pedestrian infrastructure a boondoggle?

        It’s actually very useful, and gets used fairly heavily. My only quibble is with some of the lighting.

      4. How can something so useful be called a boondoggle?

        I never said it wasn’t worth it. I said it was very poorly planned. Maybe you don’t remember the history. It was a mess. Not a total mess (which is why I called it a “bit of a boondoggle”, as opposed to a “total boondoggle”) but still rather messy.

        It is easy to say “All’s well that ends well” but this matters. The project cost way more than it should have, and is not as nice as it should have been (that was Al’s point). These things matter, not only there, but in the rest of the city. A project that is not nearly as good or cost effective as it should be makes it harder to build other things.

        It is like Move Seattle. These are great plans. I think it would be huge for Seattle. But the folks putting it together at SDOT were incompetent. They couldn’t do it. So, as a result, we are seeing only half-ass proposals trickle out, bit by bit. Costs matter. Planning matters.

        Anyway, I have far more confidence in SDOT leadership now. For that matter, I think Zimbabwe did a much better job that Kubly. I didn’t agree with some of the decisions (like backtracking with bike lanes on 35th NE) but in terms of actually building what they say they are going to build, things are much better.

    2. Uh… you do realize that the current Ballard station options range from -$143M to +$203M? $20M is not so significant by comparison. The actual bridge cost ended up at $56M. Northgate Link finished under $50M anyway. This was not primarily a budget problem.

      I will say that the bridge has a wider public benefit beyond Link, but look how many other Link station enhancements offer additional benefits.

      As far as soundproofing goes, it should have been considered on Day 1. Actually the original design was indeed fully enclosed but was deemed too expensive.

      There are many ways to reduce noise on a freeway bridge. Most bridges over freeways have something (and there are dozens in our region) — even if it’s a low wall three feet high.

      No this is likely because the revised bridge design ignored the issue. Plus, they can get their pretty bridge in a picture book!

      As is typical, budgets only matter more when riders are the beneficiaries of a better experience. Had some adjacent property owner demanded noise consideration, soundproofing costs and effort would not be debated. But of course this was mainly for the riders going to college.

      1. One idea that I don’t know if was ever considered – instead of focusing on the bridge for noise reduction, focus on the freeway itself. At freeway speeds, it’s primarily tire noise, not engine noise, and tire noise can be reduced significantly just by swapping out the pavement with a quieter paving material.

        WSDOT did this on the new 520 and other spots, and it works. And doing noise reduction this way benefits everyone in the area – including drivers on I-5 itself – not just bridge users. Obviously, repaving the entire freeway system all at once is cost prohibitive, but if WSDOT could somehow be made to prioritize areas for quieter pavement where there’s lots of pedestrians around (e.g. proximity to a transit station), it would make a big difference.

      2. Yeah that’s a great partial mitigation, asdf2!

        The bigger issue I see is that no public entity will admit that the John Lewis bridge is too noisy for users. To be clear, I think the existence of the bridge is great! It’s a deafening user experience — but it’s still a great connection.

        And I think a fully enclosed bridge as first proposed would have been a magnet for panhandlers and drugged out people — even possibly becoming a de facto toilet at times. The one thing the noise does is discourage loitering..

        Looking forward, pedestrian bridges will be a valuable addition to any 15-minute city. The challenge is how to design, build and maintain them in ways that make them most useful to the neighborhoods.

        I’m reminded that the MLK+ Rainier bridge is proposed for demolition by SDOT. Seattle has suggested several street changes but has not developed a solution that separates pedestrians from awkward and dangerous street crossings near Mt Baker Link. Perhaps this bridge replacement can become a case study on solving the user challenges with optimized design treatments.

        My solution would be to promote walk-in businesses or government services on these bridges. Jane Jacobs talked about eyes on the street and having things happening on long pedestrian walkways could really help!

        Back to the original John Lewis bridge example, a wider bridge that becomes a food court — tables on one side and vendors on the other — could have gone a long way. Ponte Vecchio in Florence is a timeless experience and the concept deserves to be at least considered when appropriate here in Seattle.

        But I admittedly am the kind of guy who fantasizes about cafes or libraries or post offices or gyms build above surface Link stations in the RV.

      3. Yeah, if they can reduce the noise coming from the freeway, surrounding neighbors would be very thankful.

      4. There is a line for the quieter concrete. According to WSDOT it depends on when the freeway section is scheduled to be replaced and location. MI has asked for quieter concrete on I-90 for a while, and thought the fact our station needed a noise variance would bump us up. Nope. Still 2037. Sometimes I wonder if WSDOT and ST even know the other exists.

  6. They key to goid transit frequency is automation. That can take many forms — but it takes pretty intense demand to make good manned frequency worthwhile.

    That’s a general observation — but if we are going for frequency we should be preparing ststems to enable it.

    1. While I have certainly witnessed bad eggs among operators go out of their way to sabotage headway so they don’t have to do their job and pick up passengers, I’ve also dealt with computers enough to know I don’t trust them to operate a mixed-traffic bus line without a human behind a brake pedal. And I think the control centers on the RapidRide routes track the buses well enough to have a “See me” note in the box of the bad egg awaiting their arrival at base.

      Worse yet, there is so much a hacker can do to cause carnage in the age of drones. At least with a human operator behind the wheel, we would know who to arrest.

      1. Brent, I agree. I don’t see driverless buses in mixed traffic any time soon, may be in some low traffic neighborhood as a way to get to a transit station.
        AL, I agree that automation is key to ultra-high frequency. Skytrain or other automated rail systems can provide 90sec headways, but they are complex and expensive. I see people movers (incl pinched track) and gondolas as a more affordable entry into automated systems.

  7. Actually on the topic of busses and frequency, why don’t we ask the city to focus a bit more on the current state of the transit plus/rapidrides and dedicated lanes for the existing routes? There’s still the 7/40/48 still undergoing design reviews.

  8. Another mayor. Another reset on transportation and land use planning. Is there a way to break out of this cycle of repeatedly starting from square one and get progress on becoming a City before the next mayor, who we can statistically expect to come four years or sooner after the previous mayor?

  9. As a regular rider of the 75, I will note that Metro plans to gut our service as part of the Lynnwood Link plans, making it an every half hour route except at ‘peak’. Seems like we’re going in the wrong direction on this route. It’s a serious disincentive when you might have to wait up to half an hour for your bus when returning from a trip downtown.

    1. I’m guessing Metro’s rationale is that the bulk of the 75’s riders will have other frequent routes to choose from. For example, along Sand Point Way between Children’s hospital and UW, you’ve got the 65. For Magnessun Park, you can take the 62 to Link instead of the 75. Northgate to Lake City will have the 61, which is also supposed to be frequent. Areas for whom the 75 will be is the only service do exist of course, but they’re all low density, and 30 minute service is still a whole lot better than no service at all.

      Ideally, the 75 would still be running frequently, but with a driver shortage, you have to make tough tradeoffs, as every bus serving one route is a bus not serving some other route.

      1. The 75 is quite busy during the week with UW students. I regularly see 15-30 people on the bus midday by the time we get to UVillage. And there is new low income housing at Magnuson Park. I see more and more people using the bus weekly. On a personal note, my wife and I have been taking the bus to doctor appointments at Northgate (Polyclonic, PacMed, and Kaiser are all at Northgate) for errands, going out to eat, etc. We will now drive, since very few of our trips are peak trips. Who wants a 2 seat ride for appointments when one bus is only half an hour frequency? We’re seniors so we go to the doctor more than I ever thought I would.

        We’ve been at Matthews Beach for over 30 years and have seen the 75 get better. It is such a shame to go backwards.

      2. It does seem like we are moving backwards. Overall it just seems inconsistent. I get what you are saying asdf2, but at the same time, why is the 333 getting 15 minute service, then? Those are areas covered by the 331, which has way less ridership than the 75. The only areas of the 331 which do have decent ridership are just like the areas you mentioned for the 75. In other words, they have other, more frequent options to choose from as well. The only exception is the piece from Shoreline Community College to Link, which is why I put that as part of 75. In other words, I think my proposals (, are at least consistent. In some cases, this means 15 minute service. But if you have enough in savings (e. g. by adopting the more austere proposal) then maybe you can squeeze 15 minute service out of the 75, and possibly even the 336 (which is similar to the 331).

        There is another odd aspect to the 75. Right now, the 75 through-routes with the 45. That isn’t possible if the 75 runs only every half hour. So it has to layover in the U-District. I guess they’ve got that figured out (maybe it lays over next to the 372). I’m fine with that.

        If it were to run every 15 minutes, and if it lays over in the U-District, then it can be combined with the 61. By combining the routes you save money, while giving riders more one-seat trips. It isn’t the best combination, but it is pretty good. I think it is also shorter than the current 45/65 combination.

      3. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Metro’s decision to reduce 75 was necessarily the best call. I was simply imagining what they were likely thinking when they made that decision, without passing judgement. RossB does make a good point that simultaneously reducing the 75 to 30 minutes and adding 15 minute service on the 333 does seem questionable.

  10. We mainly go to Northgate these days for the doctor or Target now that the mall is closed. We go to U Village for errands, shopping, the dentist, and eating out. As I said in another reply, that’ll be over. We are not waiting up to half an hour for a bus with bags of groceries, nor taking an hour to get home from the doctor when I can drive there in 15 minutes. And we were doing so well in cutting our car usage. We only drive 4000-5000 miles every year, including the infrequent road trip.

    I realize trade offs have to be made, but it is very disappointing that we are retreating. And the cuts to the 75 are draconian.

    1. Mike, note that the Metro suggested reductions is not just to frequency but also to orientation; they propose that Route 75 be truncated at Lake City. Route 75 has been connected with Northgate for several decades; between 1998 and 2012, it extended to Ballard. Proposed Route 61 would connect Northgate and Lake City. Since U Link, Route 75 might have attracted more riders if it been provided the Route 65 northbound pathway next to the UW Link station; it would have been closer to the UWMC and Link; riders oriented to Children’s could have used either route.

      1. Route 75 was jam-packed going through campus; yes, maybe it would have attracted different ridership if routed to follow the 65 route, but there was a reason it didn’t. While the bus often got much emptier at the U Village stop (the first stop off campus), it remained relatively well used until fairly far North along Sand Point Way.

    2. The decision has not been made yet, so be sure to provide feedback about your situation. That is, after all, the whole purpose of this article series.

      The whole point of Link is to make transit overall better. On my opinion, however, the Metro bus restructure plan puts far too many hours into making time consuming turns. Eg, the plan for Meridian turns a formerly fairly straight route into something that tries to serve too many other streets. The current proposal also eliminates service to parts of Lake City. Meanwhile, the current proposal serves the nothingness between Aurora Transit Center and Montlake Terrace Transit Center gets 3 bus routes, one of which is the serpentine-belt route 333 operating every 15 minutes.

      Anyway, the whole point of the articles being written here in the last few weeks is to get people thinking about what would be better and give feedback to those that can make changes.

  11. Submitted a general comment but had nothing to do with buses. The intersection at John & Broadway needs a left turn signals in all directions so that cars aren’t running red lights because they don’t have an openings in traffic to turn. This poses a risk to pedestrians (eh-hem..bus & train riders) and forces the bizarrely-scheduled route 43 to also run red lights turning left onto Broadway.

    1. The thing about signalized left turns, pedestrian wait times at intersections are a lot less when you don’t have them. In the suburbs especially, left turn phases can drag on for a long time, and you can’t cross in any direction while that’s happening.

      I would prefer is left turns could simply be banned, but here, there’s simply no good alternative that doesn’t involve lots of cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets.

      1. I agree with asdf2. I think Seattle actually has too many left turn signals at intersections. Adding left turn signals adds to pedestrian delay — and this one is literally in front of the entrance to one of the busiest light rail system that we have so there are lots if pedestrians.

        I do think that striping some left turn pockets may help make things safer. I have no problems if some left turn movements are banned.

        I like how LA puts the left turn lights to run after the through movements and then only if there are backups in the left turn lane. Seattle puts left turns first and that seems to encourage more turning! Drivers trying to move diagonally will turn left at a signal and then right at a signal repeatedly because left turns go first and right turns can be made on red. It’s how a driver can get diagonally faster rather than staying on the same street and turning only once.

        It’s one of those unintended consequences — like how adding stop signs on Pike and Pine has encouraged more drivers to use 11th and 13th rather than use Broadway and 12th.

      2. Al,

        “Drivers trying to move diagonally will turn left at a signal and then right at a signal repeatedly because left turns go first and right turns can be made on red.”

        I don’t drive and am not a passenger in that many people’s cars, but even so, I have never seen anyone do this. Do you have empirical evidence of this happening consistently at large scale?

        From my experience, people value “predictability” and “simplicity” over “speed”. I suppose that I could imagine 16 year olds who just got their license do this because it’s “neat” but not a more seasoned driver unless they were on the clock (e.g. delivery drivers). But I’m entirely willing to believe that this happens, though – I’m just curious to see the evidence for it as it’s not a pattern I have observed or even seen mentioned before.

        Thanks in advance.

      3. The issues for someone trying to turn left are:

        1. The car wanting to turn left blocks through traffic, often until the light turns red, making everyone anxious.

        2. You don’t know which cars in line want to turn left or go left.

        3. Oncoming traffic is nervous about an anxious driver turning left.

        4. The pedestrian has a walk sign except the driver hoping to turn left is focused on oncoming traffic and is going to make sure they complete the turn to avoid getting hit and often will cut it close.

        If you are a traffic engineer and accept over 90% of trips are by car, and your job is to get them from A to B as efficiently and safely as possible, there are two methods to deal with left turns:

        1. Dedicated left hand turn lanes. You need a lot of road space, and traffic, for this method, and you see this more often in suburbia. . The pedestrian has a no walk sign and no through cars are backed up. The downside is the intersection signals take a long time (for driver and pedestrian) but generally driver anxiousness is lower, and is safer for a pedestrian. To deal with slow signals there is often a cross button a pedestrian can push to accelerate the signal in low traffic.

        2. Both a green through light and green left turn light at the same time. Again this tells the pedestrian to not walk and allows both through traffic and left turning traffic to proceed.

        Some jurisdictions are moving to roundabouts, but Americans aren’t not very familiar with them, especially two lane roundabouts.

        The opposite is 50th between The Ave. and I-5. SDOT manufactures traffic congestion and danger for pedestrians by terrible traffic signaling along this route for no discernible purpose.

      4. Hello Daniel Thompson!

        It sounds like you must be new to Seattle and unfamiliar with the Capitol Hill neighborhood in particular and with the intersection at John & Broadway. Otherwise you would realize that a comment like this:

        If you are a traffic engineer and accept over 90% of trips are by car, and your job is to get them from A to B as efficiently and safely as possible

        is as relevant to the topic at hand as barging into a discussion of professional basketball to state that the average height of the American male is 5 feet 9 inches tall. When you’re trying to figure out how to defend against a 7 footer, the average height of the general population doesn’t matter. Likewise, when you’re talking about this neighborhood, the nationwide rate modeshare is irrelevant- if you were not new to Seattle, such a comment would greatly diminish your credibility on local transportation issues, or even cause people to suspect that you were making irrelevant points in an attempt to derail the conversation or push an agenda while other people are trying to have a serious factual conversation about real-world problems.

        But since you are new to Seattle, I’ll fill you in about this intersection- I live in the neighborhood and walk through it many times a week!

        First, Seattle has a light rail system- it’s a lot like a subway- and one of its most popular stations is located at this intersection!

        Second, this intersection doesn’t just have a light rail station- it also has four major bus routes- the 8, 10, 49, and 60!

        Third, we have not just buses and light rail, but we also have a streetcar about a block and a half away- just outside one of the other entrances to Capitol Hill Station!

        Fourth, we have not only light rail, buses, and a streetcar, but there is also a major bike lane just a block away!

        Fifth, even as you get further from the intersection, there are multiple other bus routes and bike lanes serving the neighborhood!

        Sixth, the area surrounding this intersection is almost entirely multifamily housing and commercial- a lot of people live in Capitol Hill! It’s a fairly small area, but it actually has a larger population than some of our local suburbs!

        Seventh, you see a lot of us out and about on the sidewalks and in crosswalks- walking to the light rail station, walking to the bus, walking to the streetcar, walking to work, walking to school, walking to restaurants, bars, and cafes, walking to the park, walking to visit friends, walking to get groceries, etc. As surprising as it must sound to someone who just moved here from a part of the country where 90% of trips are by cars, if you take a look around the area surrounding this intersection, you’ll see that pedestrians outnumber cars!

        Now that you’re up to speed on Capitol Hill and the intersection of John and Broadway, I’m sure you can see why prioritizing cars at this intersection would be ludicrous!

        Anyway, welcome to our city! Capitol Hill is fantastic neighborhood and I hope you get the chance to see it for yourself soon!

      5. The thing about signalized left turns, pedestrian wait times at intersections are a lot less when you don’t have them. In the suburbs especially, left turn phases can drag on for a long time, and you can’t cross in any direction while that’s happening.

        Except this isn’t the suburbs. I would rather have a left turn light and occasionally wait a few seconds than worry about whether a car is going to drive into me. Just have a left turn signal with a short left turn cycle. If you have to wait two cycles to turn left, tough luck. That’s life in the big city.

        You are right about banning left turns here. It would be problematic, because taking three rights often puts you into dead ends (or areas that should be dead ends, like Denny next to the station).

        Anyway, they are working on it:

      6. PhillipG,

        You never mentioned when you moved to Seattle. Usually when I see someone as impolite as you I know they moved here recently.

        Despite several paragraphs of pointless insults — when anyone on this blog knows I was born in Seattle in 1959, raised in lower Capitol Hill, lived a few blocks from this intersection in the mid 1980’s and worked in downtown Seattle until 2022 — and also knows tenure in this city has little bearing on the solution to this problem, you fail to acknowledge one point:

        Ross agrees with me.

        Ross is not a car lover but he is a realist. The question was what to do about left hand turns, not just at this location but any intersection. Despite a very long post you never propose a solution.

        One solution as mentioned is to ban left hand turns. But then that routes that traffic through more residential neighborhoods with three right hand turns which are as dangerous for pedestrians as lefts hand turns at a turn signal.

        Or you could do nothing. As I explained that results in traffic backups (because the car traffic never disappears) and anxious drivers trying to turn left waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic (like now) while focusing on oncoming traffic when the pedestrian has a green crossing sign. I don’t do PI work but these are great cases, unless you are the pedestrian plaintiff.

        All I tried to do is explain how traffic engineers in this region deal with this issue. They can’t be hysterical like you, or think wishing cars would go away or not take left turns would make it real. They have to deal with reality.

        So as I noted suburbia and more urban areas deal with it differently. I agree with Ross that at this specific location — although the question was about left hand turns in general — probably the best solution is to have a dual green light for left hand turns and through traffic. At least that is the safest for pedestrians.

        Or as more jurisdictions in this area are going to, roundabouts.

        Did you have another solution you thought would be better? I would love to hear it if you could calm down, accept reality, forget about arguing who has lived here longer, and calmly and intelligently tell us a solution SDOT and the traffic engineers are missing.

        I am not a traffic engineer and maybe I missed a solution you know and we don’t.

        So what is that solution?

      7. Anonymouse, there are many types of driver behaviors. There are many types of transit rider behaviors too. Some like simplicity and others look for faster ways.

        Consider that a commuter who travels between home and work every day may try different paths whether driving or riding transit. This is different from someone who makes the trip infrequently.

        Seattle is increasingly a town where people try short cuts. At least in this case they are staying on major streets. Lately I see drivers trying local streets to get past bottlenecks at peak hours.

        A common jog that I’ve seen many times is how drivers use Seward Park Blvd now that Rainier is a single lane around Rainier Beach. It has created backups of as bad as two dozen cars going through a Seward Park Ave stop sign. If they are headed south, the turn left at Othello and right on Seward Park Blvd and the turn left again to head towards Renton.

        Another one is going between 23rd and MLK in the CD on Union. MLK signals allow for left turns along with through movements while 23rd does not.

      8. Al, the traffic apps like Waze have caused more cut through traffic. The only two remedies we have found on MI are to figure out a way to reduce the congestion bottleneck (such as restriping I-90 to four lanes which eliminated some artificial bottlenecks where the lanes reduced like under the Convention Center or through Everett) or lower speed limits in the drive around zones and enforce that with police, which is impossible in Seattle that is down 300 police officers. Unless it is a camera there is no police enforcement of drivers in Seattle these days

      9. Al S –

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I agree that people take shortcuts, I have seen that. What I have not seen is the zig-zag behavior you have mentioned.

        Incidentally, it is a pattern I often follow myself as a pedestrian :) As I tend to follow the flow of green lights for pedestrian crossings when I need to get in a loosely diagonal direction (e.g. across downtown Seattle from down by Pioneer Square up to the Convention Center, or downtown Bellevue from Old Bellevue up to the Transit Center). However, even then I tend to have certain preferences, e.g. avoid the steepest hills or the streets with narrow sidewalks or broken sidewalks (more common on a few blocks in Bellevue, I suppose). I also avoid crossing at certain intersections where I have been almost run over a number of times – NE 4th St. and Bellevue Way is a prime example.

        I am still curious about statistics as to how often the zig-zag pattern you have mentioned seeing anecdotally actually happens. Has anyone else happened to run across any studies related to it?

      10. Thank you PhillipG for pointing out the obvious, that the trips passing through Broadway and John are far less than 90% car. Even some of the car trips passing through that intersection are also pedestrian trips as people cross the street *after* getting out of their car. Whatever the statistic is about percent of trips that are made by car, aggregated across the entire county, state or country, are absolutely totally irrelevant.

        I think RossB may have it right, that a short (but existant) left turn cycle may be the right balance here. The reason why left-turn cycles are so infuriating in the suburbs is they tend to be very long cycles, particularly around big shopping centers when lots of drivers are turning left into the parking lot. Just the other day in Monroe, for example, I sat at a light (in a car) waiting for a left turn cycle that was dragging on for nearly a minute as car after car after car pulled into the shopping center. This is the kind of thing we don’t want at Broadway and John. That said, banning left turns altogether at that intersection, I think, would simply result in unprotected left turns onto nearby side streets, so you have not only all of the safety problems that unprotected left turns create, but also lots of neighborhood cut-through traffic.

      11. For what it’s worth, once, while waiting for some food at a restaurant on 1st between Pine and Pike, I actually counted the number of cars and pedestrians that went by. It was something resembling 50% car, 50% pedestrian, in spite of the road being jam packed with cars, while the sidewalk was somewhat crowded, but definitely not packed. The reason for the difference is geometry – a sidewalk has much more capacity than a lane of roadway for the simply reason that pedestrians take up much less space than cars do. Thus, a busy, but not packed sidewalk can carry as many people per hour as the number of cars that can fit into a jam-packed 4-lane road. (I did not count the number of bikes, but it was much less than either cars or pedestrians).

        I would expect the relative number of pedestrians and cars per minute to be roughly similar at Broadway and John as 1st and Pine.

      12. So asdf2, you now agree with one of the two solutions I noted traffic engineers suggest for this very common traffic issue: a left turn and through green light at the same time.

        Your earlier suggestion that left turn lanes be banned you now understand is unrealistic because banning left turns entirely creates more problems than it solves, and is fools gold if you think banning left turns will reduce car traffic at this intersection. As I noted traffic engineers have to deal with reality.

        And for the record PhillipG didn’t suggest a solution. The solution you finally understood was laid out by me, but is pretty standard traffic engineering 1.0. Unless PhillipG has another solution we don’t know about.

        When it comes to car vs. sidewalk traffic at Pike Place Market you forget to ask how those pedestrians got there. Banning cars in the PPM or on Capitol Hill or pretty much anywhere gets the most opposition from the business community and local Chamber, the same folks all those pedestrians and drivers are there to see. Pretty much the same reason the CID Chamber doesn’t want another station for DSTT2 but wants more parking.

        They know they make much more per car driver than transit rider. That is why the PPM has so much parking below it.

        Convince the Capitol Hill Chamber to ban cars or left turns at John St. and I will believe. Any retail business will tell you they don’t care whether cars “scale” because obviously they do. They only care about the revenue differential between transit riders and car drivers. That is retail 1.0. It is why, in part, downtown Seattle retail is so dead.

      13. In the short run, I like the idea of a left turn arrow. They fact that SDOT cooperated with Metro on this means they are aware of issues. There are a couple I see. First, a long left turn light means less time for the buses to go straight (the buses don’t turn). Second, if there isn’t enough space for them, the cars trying to turn left back up into the lanes with cars going straight. Hopefully that has been worked out.

        I also wouldn’t rule out just banning left turns in the long turn. I think you have to essentially make areas “superblocks”, and force drivers to stick to the arterials. So this:, and this: This makes for a very indirect way to get around via a car, but that’s the point. It is still possible. You can still drive your truck from point A to point B — you just drive farther. In the long run, it means a lot less driving — people just drive less. This is basically what Amsterdam does (and they have a lot less driving). To make that happen would require those “superblocks” to essentially be “local access only”. How that can be achieved is a bit tricky. It means blocking off some streets to cars or making streets one way along with signs and enforcement. This makes for indirect routes to the areas inside as well. That is a lot more effort than putting in a set of left turn arrows.

      14. I was never suggesting that cars be banned on Broadway. In an ideal world, I would ban left turns at that intersection, the problem is that there no nearby intersections where left turns would be any better, so I think a protected left with a short phase (e.g. just a few cars per light cycle) so as not to delay pedestrians too much is the best balance.

        I do think private cars should be banned in Pike Place Market, with exceptions for deliveries, but that’s an entirely separate issue. The entire parking capacity there is negligible compared to the number of people that walk through the market, so it would not materially impact the businesses. Those that really want to drive there would still be able to park in the garage. The idea that the people who do get lucky enough to find a spot on the street right in the market are the same ones who spend the most money at the market is ridiculous, as there is no mechanism reserving these parking spaces for these people. For every car with a person buying 40 pounds of fish, there are lots of other cars filled with tourists posing for pictures, buying either nothing or just a $4 cup of coffee at the Starbucks. And, of course, many of the parking spaces will be filled with people who don’t know what they’re doing, who aren’t even visiting or shopping the market at all, but just cruising the street for parking near some other (unrelated) downtown business.

        And, on Broadway, the idea that it’s the people who arrive in cars who are keeping the businesses afloat, while the people who arrive on transit are just tramps is outright insulting. I have visited Capitol Hill many times, by both car and transit, and there’s not much difference in how much money I spend depending on whether I arrive one way or the other way. And, even the times I do drive, I don’t go looking for a parking space on Broadway, as I know that to be a lost cause – I’ll park on some other street a few blocks away and walk, so on Broadway itself, I am still experiencing the street as a pedestrian, even when I drive. Also, a lot of the people on Broadway get there with neither cars or transit, but simply by living near Broadway and walking (remember, this is Capitol Hill we’re talking about, not Sammamish – people choose to live there and pay higher rent per square foot so that they can walk to bars and restaurants).

        And, in terms of whether it makes sense to prioritize pedestrians, of course, people who arrive in cars still count as pedestrians so long as they walk on the street after getting out of their cars, as opposed to walking directly from parking garage to building. After all, when you cross a street on foot, you always need the street to be safe without excessive delay, and how you got there in the first place doesn’t really matter.

      15. What I have not seen is the zig-zag behavior you have mentioned.

        Incidentally, it is a pattern I often follow myself as a pedestrian :)

        Yeah, I think that is common for pedestrians, not so common for drivers. That being said, I think there are two types of driving that people often do now:

        1) They know the area, and know the little tricks. I do a lot of hiking, and I have a pattern I follow to get out of town. It is different than where Google would send me, in that I avoid a tough left turn. It takes only a few second longer, but I definitely prefer it. Going the other way, I actually do make a decision based on the traffic light. If the left turn arrow is in my favor I will take a left at a particular arterial. Otherwise I drive straight and take a left further on. I would imagine that sort of thing is common.

        2) They let Google (or some other software) decide their route. This is more and more common. Google may be sending people on zig-zags. I’ve certainly seen pathways that seem way too convoluted to me. When I’m going through Auburn (to get to Rainier) I’ll often force Google to simplify the route, as it is easy for me to make a mistake. Drivers who are more accustomed to having Google direct them might just make all those zig-zags.

      16. There are some slight alternatives. For that specific intersection perhaps just banning left turns during peak times could help alleviate a lot of the problem. Or also for john/oliver perhaps more explicitly paint a left turn lane, currently it’s a bit unclear for many drivers if they should go ‘straight’ on the right/left lane.

        I spot checked google and most of the time it is trying to route one away from that intersection already suggesting making left turns before or after it.

        > One solution as mentioned is to ban left hand turns. But then that routes that traffic through more residential neighborhoods with three right hand turns which are as dangerous for pedestrians as lefts hand turns at a turn signal.

        At least for that specific intersection it’ll probably be fine to ban it or restrict it. Seattle already does on westlake and other avenues sometimes and honestly there’s only like a handful of cars every hour attempting the left turn on Oliver/Broadway.

      17. When I’ve been in a car it’s been hard to find left turns on Broadway or Pike-Pine. We go to the arterial where we want to turn, but it’s no left turn. Sometimes on Broadway we ended up turning left on those little streets (Thomas, Harrison), but it’s hard with no protected turn and then those streets have traffic circles every block. I’ve found a few ways around it, like coming from I-90 you can go north on Rainier and Boren, right on Pike, left on Bellevue. As long as that left turn remains allowed.

    2. Wow… what’s up with the Daniel Thompson-bashing?? In his defense, he was merely describing how the generic American traffic engineer focuses on the car and most of America moves by car. Obviously that’s not the case on Cap Hill but whoever redesigns the intersection (and the higher authority that approves it) will end up being the typical American traffic engineer.

      We may be transit nerds but it’s important to be realistic and keep

      It looks like SDOT is installing a left-turn arrow on John St for EB traffic only and banning left-turn for WB traffic (except for buses). This also doesn’t address left turns from Broadway. Personally, I prefer an all-green pattern for all traffic in each direction: a green-left arrow and a green “straight” while oncoming traffic has all red. Sidenote: 8th Ave NE & NE65th has the exact same issue. Lots of left-turning traffic onto 8th Ave because that’s the only access to I-5 NB for the Roosevelt neighborhood.

      Thank you RossB for finding the project page!

    3. *We may be transit nerds but it’s important to be realistic and keep balanced perspectives for all users of the city.

      Haha I didn’t finish that thought in the above reply

  12. I think this should either be a post about 15-minute towns, or a post about ultra-high frequency transit, but trying to connect the two doesn’t work for me. It feels like it’s co-opting the 15-minute concept to push gondolas, or other ultra-high frequency transit. Also, running ultra-high frequency transit from a non-15-minute town, to a 15-minute town, doesn’t transform the former into the latter. A 15-minute town is not defined as being able to get to any 15-minute town quickly.

    1. I agree Sam. This new definition of “15 minute” cities connected by transportation is the definition of suburbia and cars.

      Get in your car and drive to the MI town center and shop. Everything you really need is there. Or drive to Issaquah for the big box stores. Then Old Front St. for the restaurants. Or drive to Kirkland. Or big box stores in Bellevue and then Bellevue Mall. Or the CID. Or U Village. At each stop you walk around to shop. The only difference is in one example you take transit between “15 minute” areas (but can’t carry anything back home) whereas in the other you drive.

      1. @DT,

        Exactly. If you include transit in your definition of a 15-min city, then you might as well include cars in your definition too.

        But hey, I guess you have to hitch your wagon to something.

      2. I’ve read where an old person who died never left their arrondissement in Paris. Their whole life. Even if I lived in Paris I probably would want to visit the other areas of the city, or world.

        But this area has no Paris. I wish it did. About the one area could be the downtown core but that area is dead.

        The region has lots of nice vibrant areas to visit, but they tend to be spread out in “urban villages”, whether Capitol Hill or Issaquah.

        So all we are talking about is taking transit to the vibrant areas or driving a car.

        Some think transit is more moral, but the other 90%+ disagree. Some argue cars don’t scale, which in some areas pre-pandemic during peak times they didn’t, and guess what: those folks took transit. The market has a way of sorting these things out.

        This new “15 minute” city strikes me as another urban planner turn of phrase to stand out without any meaning. If MI’s town center is an urban “15 minute” city I guess I don’t get it, unless the point is to praise traditional suburban use zoning and segregation of uses to create some retail density in a huge area with many different cities.

        In the end the question is do I want to drive to say Ballard along Interbay or take several buses? Age old question.

        The real point for any real urbanists is why are there so many “urban villages” surrounded by dead areas in an urban area like Seattle but no core urban area. If I were Speck I would say someone fucked up the zoning.

    2. @Sam,

      Bingo! You speak truth.

      The idea of a 15-min city does not involve transit at all. It’s defined as all necessities being within a 15 minute walk or bike ride – no transit or cars involved.

      This post makes no sense. 15-min cities, frequent transit and SOVs are all different topics.

      Thanks for pointing out what should be obvious.

    3. “15-minute cities” have extensive transit between them! The two go hand in hand as I explained above. Barcelona has 15-minute pedestrianized “superblock” neighborhoods, AND extensive transit between them and to neighboring cities. Here’s the Barcelona Metro with 11 lines. Barcelona also has 15 commuter rail lines, 9 regional (Cascades-like) lines in a four-province area, a tram network, a BRT network under construction, regular buses, night buses, and national/international rail.

      The term “15-minute city” was coined as an antithesis of car-dependent areas, so a 15-minute driveshed is not it. Downtown Mercer Island might be as a 15-minute city if it has a sufficient variety of services, but not the whole island.

      1. Here’s one idea I take issue with … “and can extend the range of services available within a 15-minute trip, and turn a non-15-minute neighborhood into a 15-minute one.” Martin seems to stretching the definition of a 15-minute neighborhood to include taking transit for 15 minutes. Nobody is saying some towns, neighborhoods or stations shouldn’t be connected with ultra-high frequency transit. Just don’t say transit turns non-15 minute neighborhoods into 15 minute one’s. That’s not what’s meant by a 15-minute neighborhood.

      2. If I can walk 5min to a high-frequency transit station where I don’t have to wait, ride for 5min to a neighboring neighborhood which has a library or grocery store or restaurant next to the station, then I think it still meets the 15min goal.

      3. BTW, Martin, I do like your posts and comments, even if once in a while I may have some small disagreement over something you said.

      4. Thanks, Sam, I feel the articles are just a starting point for further discussion and differing views are an important part of that discussion.

      5. Yes, I had reservations about that, but saw it as a borderline issue. To evaluate it I think we’d need examples.

      6. @MartinP,

        The internationally accepted definition of a 15-min city does not include the use of cars or transit in that 15 minute travel time. Or the use of any other type of mechanical conveyance for that matter.

        In fact, the use of cars or transit is directly at odds with the goals of a 15-min city. The goal of a 15-min city is to have all services within a 15 minute walk or bike ride specifically so that cars and transit are NOT required for daily life.

        This post is directly at odds with what a 15-min city is trying to achieve.

      7. From what I understand the focus of the 15 minute goal is to reduce car depency by walking and biking to main daily activities. I’m suggesting that if Seattle can’t (yet) meet this goal everywhere, why not use a short transit trip to get there?!? Still better than forcing people to get/use a car even though it may or may not meet the “international definition “ whatever that is.

      8. @myself,

        Clarification: In paragraph one I should have said “powered conveyance”, not “mechanical”, since I suppose a bike qualifies as a mechanical conveyance.

        And don’t ask me about e-bikes…..

      9. You can easily find references to the importance of transit within 15 minute cities:

        Hidalgo argues that the 15-minute concept could hold more promise for cities such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and his hometown of Bogotá, where the higher percentage of transit and bike riders and more extensive existing mass transit infrastructure can help nurture a network of walkable neighborhoods.

        [Now talking about Paris …] With a well-developed transit system and densely developed urban core, the City of Light has always been a great place for strolling and traveling by foot.

        Cities like Los Angeles and Atlanta, which have relatively limited transit systems (from a global perspective), can create this kind of concentration and walkability in urban cores and in pockets of denser development along certain transit lines. The problem with this pattern is that, without large systemic shifts, even the most forward-thinking developments end up as islands of walkability in a sea of cars, he says. “Drive, park, and enjoy being a pedestrian momentarily; that’s what you do at Walt Disney resorts,” he says. “That’s not what you’re supposed to do in cities.”

        That is from this article, which is referenced by the Wikipedia article on the concept. You can find many more references like that.

        The concept of a 15-minute city is open for interpretation. It is like trying to defining BRT, or the difference between a streetcar and light rail. In the case of a 15-minute city, the key thing is that you are able to get around without a car. You can do all your essential tasks within 15 minutes without a car.

        In my opinion, to include a bike within that 15 minute limit seems like more of a stretch than adding transit. A fit biker can go very fast, or up a big hill (something the average person wouldn’t do). There is also the weather. Being told that you can bike 15 minutes to your destination when it is 40 degrees and raining all day isn’t appealing. If, on the other hand, you can reach that destination by transit within 15 minutes (including wait time) it fits quite nicely within the definition. It might not be the letter of the definition, but certainly the spirit.

      10. In fact, the use of cars or transit is directly at odds with the goals of a 15-min city.

        Cars yes, transit no. See those quotes from Mayor Hidalgo, who basically originated the term. (OK, it was one of her aides, but she is a big proponent, pushing for it in Paris. Both her and Moreno cite the importance of transit.)

        All of these things go together: Density, diversity (of uses), good bike & walking paths, good transit. Transit ridership tends to go up as bike paths are made nicer. Same with density and diversity. At first this seems at odds. More bike use would seem to replace transit. If the neighborhood is diverse — if there are restaurants, markets, medical offices, etc. — then you take fewer transit trips (you just walk more). But ultimately, what this leads to is less driving. Even if you own a car, you begin to look at trips differently — walking, biking, transit becomes the default.

      11. @MartinP,

        “International definition”, “global consensus”, whatever terminology you wish. The point is that the defining characteristic of a 15-min city is that you can get to all your daily needs within a 15 minute walk or bike ride. No transit or cars required for daily living.

        Does this mean no transit at all? No it doesn’t. People will still need to make that once a month trip across town to see grandma so she is happy and doesn’t cut you out of her will.

        But does that require “ ultra-high frequency transit”? Absolutely not. In fact, exactly the opposite.

        Those occasional trips don’t require anything like “ ultra-high frequency transit”. Low frequency buses operating at 20 or 30 min headways are just fine for occasional, planned trips. And if they tie into a faster rail system to cover more distance more efficiently, then so much the better. Something like Link at 8 min headways would work just fine.

        And building an “ ultra-high frequency transit” system actually works against the creation of 15-min cities. Think of the major grocery store chain looking to invest in a given city. Why would that grocery store chain invest in smaller, neighborhood level stores when they can just build one larger, central store and increase their profits using economies of scale? If people can still get to your store using cars or “ ultra-high frequency transit”, then why go small and local? Just have the people come to you.

        As an aside, thanks for keeping your posts short and concise. I find that I tend to skip over the longer, more bloviated posts. Too many words, not enough meaning..

  13. I’m moving toward Sam’s position that the article is trying to do too much at once. The primary issue is giving input to Seattle’s Transportation Plan. The “15-minute city” concept is about self-contained neighborhoods that have all the services to meet the common everyday needs, so you only have to leave the neighborhood for other things. That’s not directly related to transportation, so it belongs in the Comprehensive Plan or housing plan rather than the Transportation Plan. An ideal 15-minute city has these clusters one after the other from end to end, like Granada or Barcelona or London. That’s not realistic for Seattle given its starting point and public attitudes. So I think we want “more 15-minute neighborhoods” (=urban villages), and filling in the amenities to make incomplete ones complete. For instance, Northgate has pretty much all of them (supermarket, library, medical clinic, gym, park, fast/frequent transit station, retaurants, jobs, education (via the ped bridge), I don’t know about a hardware store, etc). Beacon Hill (the village) doesn’t, so that’s were the city could identify missing amenities and fill them in. At the end of that we’d still have only part of Seattle with 15-minute neighborhoods, but that’s a start.

    Transit complements 15-minute cities, by giving access to even more destinations within 15 minutes, or 30 or 60 minutes. When the entire city consists of 15-minute cells, people living near the edge of a cell can find some of the things in the next cell. Transit allows people to go across several cells, for an extended 15- or 30-minute transit circle. When only parts of the city are 15-minute cells, then the issue becomes how to get between them, because they’re smaller than a citywide cluster or an urban center so they aren’t as comprehensive.

    1. I had hoped the focus of this post to be on whether short transit trips can fill some of the 15min-goal gaps in Seattle if transit is readily (ultra high frequency) available. In a sense similar to using an (e)bike can expand what you can reach in 15 minute radius.
      The technology discussion (gondola, people mover…) probably warrents a separate post.

      1. It got derailed over the “15-Minute City” concept, which brings in a lot of other factors and disagreements. I’d suggest another article on 15-minute ped+transit opportunities in Seattle without reference to “15-Minute City”. I’m falling back to “15-minute neighborhood”, which doesn’t have those other factors and is clearly just looking at the conditions of one neighborhood.

        My own experience living at 56th & University Way in the 90s was that the U-District is a 15-minute city, and I could extend that to Roosevelt Whole Foods via the 48 or 66 or on foot (because I lived so close to the northern end of the U-District). I think that’s what you’re getting at. Latona has little on its own, but a better 44 would give it more access to everything the U-District has.

        I think it only works for areas that are that close to an existing 15-minute neighborhood, because the maximum bus travel time is around 5 minutes to fit the entire walk+wait+bus trip into 15 minutes.

        Lake City and Bitter Lake are interesting edge cases then. We’ve proposed an ultra-frequent 125th-130th route to connect both villages to 130th Station in between. Lake City is already a 15-minute neighborhood so it doesn’t need it for that, but it does need it to access the region. Conversely, the proposed station-area upzone is not enough for a 15-minute neighborhood, but connecting it to Lake City may be enough to provide that (although it would be borderline because of the distance). Bitter Lake is not a 15-minute neighborhood, and both Lake City and the station are too far to solve that. Bitter Lake doesn’t have many options, because I don’t see a close-enough 15-minute neighborhood south or north or west of it either. So if it’s to become such, it would have to be growth in Bitter Lake itself. Of course, the 125th-130th route would be valuable to Bitter Lake anyway even if it doesn’t make it a 15-minute area.

        I’m now thinking Seattle can’t be a 15-minute city as long as two-thirds of it is single-family with hardly any retail. Even if the 2-6 plex minimum is standardized, it still excludes retail, and I can’t imagine that even a third of the lots would be built to the maximum within thirty years. San Francisco has a large contiguous area that’s 15-minute, basically the eastern half of the city. Seattle has smaller discontiguous islands, and as long as it remains like that, the smallness of the islands and the distances between them will be a barrier to calling the city “15-minute”, even if those islands are.

      2. In regards to the 15-minute city gaps, while this is a transit blog, probably more useful would be to upzone/or even encourage the urban village areas that are lacking amenities. For example west of northgate mall/licton springs or beacon hill area (south of VA/columbian way) should have some grocery store or smaller bodega at least.

        > whether short transit trips can fill some of the 15min-goal gaps in Seattle if transit is readily (ultra high frequency)

        It would help though in practice, probably not? I mean more concretely one would probably build high frequency transit on high ridership routes. The ones with gaps probably wouldn’t be where we’d build high frequency transit. For example the gap areas I cited, I guess the rapidride E and the 36 help out.

  14. In the first third of the 20th century, Seattle and Tacoma had streetcar systems. Linear urban villages grew up along the lines. West Seattle famously had three junctions leading to business and multifamily clusters. In Ballard, there were many streetcars; they were not stagnant; some changed or were closed. But each had little villages with stores and multifamily housing. There were many small groceries in the villages where residents could walk and shop. So, there were probably many 15-minute villages in Seattle and Tacoma. This probably continued into the 1950s with the electric trolleybus network. I expect service frequencies were better. The intercity streetcars, the Interurban, were taken out when SR-99 was installed. The freeway, led to many more car trips and little village stores were closed as they could not compete well with the super markets. My childhood village, Ridgecrest in Shoreline, had stores; it fell into decline with I-5 and Northgate. The grocery stores remaining almost all have large parking supply. Some little store structures that remain have become artist lofts, residences, or have offices in them. So, it may be partly a function of the auto culture; the tighter the street grid, the better the chance of taming.

    1. I think to truly meet one’s monthly needs takes more than a corner grocery store., especially today, and we see few corner grocery stores in any retail dense area.

      The 15 minute villages or cities being discussed exist on the Eastside. Virtually every city has a walkable town center with a full range of retail, mostly because the zoning (especially SFH use zoning) condensed the retail into a limited zone.

      Take MI for example. It has a north and south end shopping center that are easily walkable. Both have large full service grocery stores, banks, post office, gas station, restaurants, pharmacies, dry cleaners, and so on. Probably the only thing missing is late night clubs, but the demographics is past that.

      Same with Factoria (that has so much retail it is hard to walk), Issaquah with true retail, many areas in Bellevue, Redmond, etc. All great 15 minute villages, some with nightlife, although like in this article some have to get there first to walk around, but there is an excellent freeway network between them, plus transit, and the merchants don’t disadvantage cars. Big box store areas are a little different because … well, the stores like Costco are so big.

      Seattle is no different. Although it is the one place in the region that could truly have an urban core downtown in which someone living there could walk from their door to every retail they need like some other largish cities (which is what I can do on MI if I want to walk to the town center although is suburban) but instead Seattle has fragmented into “urban villages” spread out over a distance too far to walk from one to the next due to poor zoning with good but not complete retail like say Issaquah.

      The difference is Seattle’s urban villages were not formed along a freeway grid and are hard to get to, and other than U Village often have limited parking although often in areas like West Seattle and Ballard the merchants have free onsite parking.

      In those cases transit and especially ride sharing connect the different villages,plus many Seattleites drive too, although except for U village few “villages” offer retail much different than the rest except perhaps the clubs.

      So all we are really discussing are:

      1. How to condense enough retail it is walkable and worth going there.

      2. How to get from one 15 minute retail village to another.

      I still wish downtown Seattle had that one complete fully walkable from doorstep to retail scene but ironically it has some of the most anemic retail in the area, plus is considered less safe by many. Oh well, there is always San Francisco.

    2. This is so true eddiew,

      In fact most of the good things about Seattle and Tacoma neighborhoods were baked in when they were built. Redevelopment isn’t a friend to pre-1950 ‘hoods in general. Retrofitting density into a City presently is pure folly– there’s just no cost effective way of doing it, it’s a political mine field the City becomes something totally different (often worse) in the end. Here’s a good read on why Seattle shouldn’t grow…. unless it doesn’t want to be Seattle any longer.

      Josh and Erica (Publicola) need to wake up and realize Seattle is no longer for smart creative types and escape to someplace new.

      Money is funny thing in America. It tends to kill art… culture… diversity… all of the things that make a place worth living in. Seattle, and Tacoma even more so, were a little funky in the early 1980s. But when the money moved in, all the funky little shops, dive bars and lower rent apartments that were my world in ’85 got wiped out for yuppie housing and expensive places that didn’t serve Rainier on tap.

      Money in America builds butt-ugly McMansions (starting at 1.4 mil) that all look the same, butt-ugly condo projects, (starting at 750k) currently stinking up Seattle, and weird junk like TOD (transit oriented development). That’s were tax money is used to build light rail and the neighborhood around it is bulldozed to build, yes, you guessed it, housing for (mostly White) young college graduates (and the overpriced coffee shops and bistros that come with that class… can we get a Trader Joe’s with that?). Fuck the poor souls trying to live in the ‘hood before the damn light rail showed up.

      Look up how L.A. used rail to clean out the Asians out of Chinatown. Sound Transit currently plans on using TOD to push African-Americans out of Hilltop, Tacoma. I still think when the party is over with this 2nd Seattle tunnel, much of the CID will end up high end Lily White.

      All the NW charm of modest 1920s bungalows down the street from a friendly corner tavern is being overrun with ugly money. It’s not circus and not my monkey, but do you really want a part of this? And can you even afford to be part of this?

      1. tacomee comes out as a “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone”.

        It’s not even worth engaging with a type that manages to be more unreasonable than a “normal” NIMBY. The ultimate preservationist, the BANANA believes that the answer to housing is not to build more of it, but to reduce the number of people who want or need housing in an area.

      2. tacomee will correct us, no doubt, but I believe that they have been involved in the construction industry for a long time, so the likelihood that they have in fact built more than any of us who are also active on the blog is quite high, Nathan.

        I would be careful brandishing those pejoratives, just in case they are in fact wrong :)

        My take on tacomee’s point (which they have made a number of times, now) is that it is more pragmatic. They view the cost of building enough housing in Seattle to satisfy everyone’s needs as higher than possible, and the side-effects will be that the region will change in ways which even many of those proponents of housing will not find pleasing. You may disagree with the points or not, but I believe that to be a descriptive, not prescriptive, position. My suggestion is that it would be useful to get a refutation of the actual points, not the person making them or their motivations (and Nathan, you are articulate and well reasoned so I have no doubt that you can provide that counterargument to further the discussion here on the blog).

        Look forward to reading that reasoned reply.

      3. I’m just exhausted by anti-redevelopment takes. Maybe I’m projecting on tacomee, but this comment just repeats so many bad faith tropes that’s it’s hard know where to even start.

        I don’t disagree that gentrification and displacement are generally bad.

        I strongly disagree with the idea that “Retrofitting density into a City presently is pure folly” and “Seattle is no longer for smart creative types”

        I mean, what does tacomee even mean by “weird junk like TOD (transit oriented development)”? If they’ve been involved in construction, I’d assume they’d understand the impacts of zoning codes driving design and increasing costs. But if they understood that, I’d expect them to propose changes to zoning and design regulations, not bemoaning all new development.

        I’m sorry tacomee feels that development has destroyed their favorite neighborhoods, but I guarantee there were folks that thought, in the early 20th century, that the new construction that eventually housed tacomee’s favorite bars replaced and displaced their favorite parts of town. At the very least, I bet there were a good number of non-White folks who were here before White Settlement that opposed the original expansion of the city.

        Fundamentally, the original post is discussion how we may guide population and economic growth away from greenfield development at the edge of cities and instead into redevelopment of low-density parts of the city into higher-density neighborhoods.

        Tacomee says redevelopment from low to high density is folly.

        I think that belief is more than foolish – I think it’s incredibly problematic.

      4. Anonymouse: “Look forward to reading that reasoned reply” Is there an unquestioned assumption that Tacomee is being reasonable?

        I would 100% agree with Tacomee if he had argued: “Zoning reform is not sufficient to make housing affordable”. That’s reasonable, it’d be very hard for anyone to argue against that.

        But, I would 100% disagree with Tacomee with the argument: “Let’s not bother with zoning reform since it is not sufficient to make housing affordable.” That’s a very, very **unreasonable** position.

        I mean, he could at least argue, “Let’s not focus on zoning reform to lower housing costs”. But no, according to him zoning reform is useless. This completely ignores that even mild upzoning could give you multiple 3/4 priced towhhomes compared to 1 old house, or even 1/2 priced vs a newly constructed SFH in non-sprawl neighborhoods. Yes, 3/4 of $1 million is still not as affordable as a $450K fixer upper, so maybe his complaint is that zoning reform **must** lead to **new** $450K homes in the Seattle area? That is a very unreasonable expectation.

      5. Thank you, Nathan – I think that that is a very well-argued position and your points are quite clear and fair.

        I will just give my take on one of the issues which you address as to keep this short, namely the “redevelop low density areas within city limits to higher density” (paraphrase mine).

        At some level I see the problem as one of scope. Focusing on just Seattle, or say West King County (including Shoreline, Burien, etc.) you are completely correct that this is where development should be focused, for purposes of reducing overall environmental effects.

        However reducing environmental effects is just one aspect (certainly a very important one; perhaps even the most important one, some will argue). But not everyone will agree with this, hence the political difficulties involved. Even within Seattle there is plenty of NIMBY behavior, which leads to weird, schizophrenic behavior like what we see when people vote for increased density but put obstacles during permitting, design reviews, etc. This is only human nature at some level, and wishing it away doesn’t make it go away.

        The other thing is, going back to my point about scope – property development in Seattle is expensive, because most lots of have been developed, even those like the ones Ross likes to mention, the bigger ones in NE Seattle of 7-8k sq ft. So you still need to develop by tearing down existing buildings, which has its own cost – not the least of which is that the existing owners will factor that cost in the sale price. So the better the existing structures are, the higher the cost to redevelop.

        A natural question, therefore, is whether society should focus on pushing that development towards areas which hit both the “environmental” aspect (i.e. don’t build new in Snoqualmie on newly platted land, but also don’t build new in Phoenix or near Orlando or whatever); instead, redirect growth to the NorthEast or Midwest other places where there is existing infrastructure and even housing stock. This requires economic incentives, though, not transit or housing stock building incentives. Some might argue that therefore this is not the purview of this blog (or this thread) – if so, I am happy to take this discussion to the next open thread.

        Hope you will find this interesting food for thought, though.

      6. Edgar: my default assumption is that everyone here has good intentions, but sometimes their points are not expressed in a way which leads to good discussion. My goal is to try to foster the discussion by reducing the barriers between people’s different communication styles :)

        Thank you for your alternative takes on the comments above. I agree that those details are important, and hopefully tacomee will also chime in with clarifications of which points he is trying to argue for most strongly. I also agree with you that zoning reform is definitely useful but also not sufficient, and the _exact_ (emphasis mine) value seems to be a matter of some debate.

      7. I believe Tacomee is sincere in looking for proposals or solutions that would actually create $100-200K houses. That is a laudable goal, and I agree zoning reforms alone would not produce houses in that price point in the Seattle area.

        But maybe someone with that goal should reconsider their communication style when it invites disagreement from YIMBYs who actually want affordable homes in the Seattle area, and agreement from NIMBYs who don’t want new/poor/different people in their neighborhood or benefitting from their taxes.

        I’m actually interested in how prefab homes may lower construction costs. But I think those savings may only be fully realized by allowing more ADUs in city lots, where owners don’t have to purchase land and may be okay with not as much profit as investors. But then again, this involves zoning reform, so maybe not worth exploring according to Tacomee.

      8. I think one of the best points Tacomee makes — because he understands builders — is builders can and will build only so much housing in this region. In this market with rising interest rates, declines in stock markets, tech layoffs, higher mortgage rates, and less investment for multi-family development that amount of annual construction has gone down and will likely stay depressed for a while.

        No matter how much upzoning a city does the amount of housing that is actually built will stay the same.

        A point I try to make is how much unrealized zoning capacity we actually have throughout this region. Seattle recently expanded the UGA’s and upzoned them, and now allows three separate dwellings per residential lot. Look at the upzoning in Bellevue. Despite very high future population growth estimates every city has zoning capacity that already meets their GMPC housing growth targets. I just don’t think many on this blog want to understand that because it means upzoning is not the magic cure for housing affordability.

        Even if the region never changed its current zoning it would take around 50 years for builders to exhaust that current existing zoning.

        Another point I try to make is the term “greenfield” is legally irrelevant. The lot may be vegetated or undeveloped but it is still platted and zoned for development of privately owned. The number one way to incentivize these “greenfield” lots being developed is to upzone them. The second best way historically is to have a city folks don’t want to live in due to crime, schools, jobs, cost of living, etc.

        Another good point Tacomee makes and a former poster named Bernie — who like Tacomee called a spade a spade — use to make is all new construction has a minimum cost per sf, which rises each year, especially during a high inflationary market. Things like adopting the International Building Code and green construction mandates (both good things) also increase the costs of new construction. Folks talk about a $750,000 condo but forget about the $1000/mo. HOA fees.

        Add in things like rising property taxes, desirability of neighborhood, inflation, and a constantly rising AMI and new and existing housing prices will only increase, and as I noted in another post the residential rental property managers I know expect rents to rise 20% over the next two years because their costs have risen 20%, and these are developments with earlier much lower interest rates.

        I don’t know what remedies there are. Yes, if you upzone SFH zones more of the limited new construction each year will move from more urban to more suburban areas because the housing prices will be higher, and probably there will be more “greenfield” development, and more gentrification in South Seattle, but that doesn’t create more new net housing units or reduce the price of that new housing, and many of these areas have no transit, so what is the point or goal? I still don’t think many on this blog understand the difference between use and regulatory zoning, and that all we are looking at right now when we talk about upzoning SFH zones is allowing a different use (multi-family) but with the same regulatory limits that in a city like MI means minimum lot sizes of 8400 to 15,000 sf, yard setbacks of 20’ X 25’ X 10’ X 5’ with a maximum impervious lot coverage of 45% with zero deviations and a GFA to lot area ratio limit of 40% with zero deviations. Oh, and at least one covered parking stall per unit. Listening to folks on this blog you would think upzoning the use on these lots would allow a Hyatt scale development.

        One can move to a smaller unit, or less desirable neighborhood, or get a roommate but hoping new construction will result in lower or even stabilized housing prices — especially rentals — is probably just dreaming, especially if AMI keeps rising. Seattle has fewer and fewer desirable neighborhoods white urbanists want to live in and they keep getting pricier and pricier, or more folks move here which right now looks to be much less than estimated.

        Some on this blog get emotional because they see their rent go up and up as AMI (but not theirs) keeps going up and up, those who own see appreciation, and builders keep building to this AMI crowd while replacing older more affordable housing so there is less and less “affordable” housing. Others like Tacomee get frustrated telling them their is no magic upzoning bullet, and a gentrifying city like Seattle sometimes loses its charm as it forces out the lower classes.

        Seattle is not the first and it won’t be the last city to go through this, but the initial shock for existing residents is tough. I remember when upzoning and development in Belltown forced all the artists to Georgetown, and now they are being displaced from there due to gentrification. Few on this blog wept for them.

        About the only cities that have reversed this trend are those cities that suffered an economic meltdown and people with money started to move away. There are some grand old cities in this country where property values are now dirt cheap, and with WFH maybe worth a second look.

      9. Hello everybody,

        Let’s start with the thing that I’m ashamed of… In the 80s and 90s I helped build a bunch of soulless McMansions in Black Diamond, around the South Hill Mall (Puyallup ) and other empty chunks of land in Greater Seattle. Absolutely horrible neighborhoods with no places to walk… and no sidewalks if there was. Every one of these developments is an absolute disaster traffic-wise and there’s little to no transit. Completely bad by any urban planning standards.

        The things I’m proud of are remodeling small houses in Tacoma, and retro fitting apartment buildings on Capital Hill. I’ve been a part of a couple of duplex conversions and a strip mall to 3 townhomes project (my dear bother’s retirement plan) Those places had good bones and were built to human scale. All of those projects were in classic 15 minute city settings.

        Generally speaking, the older built stuff is better in every way. And the crazy thing about that is there wasn’t as many architects and planners in the old days. A place like Wallingford is darn near perfect!

        The way forward shouldn’t include ripping down good stuff built in the past. I know there’s a fantastic hunger to live in Wallingford. That’s why a house there costs over 1 million dollars. But ripping down million dollar houses to shitty modern apartments isn’t a solution. First the roads, sidewalks and sewers are built to scale… so there’s a limit of redevelopment before the place stops being so wonderful. Right now we’re at that point. Second, the place just wouldn’t be Wallingford any more, it would something worse. Don’t kill what you love.

        It’s a Big Country. If you can’t afford Seattle, go find someplace you can afford. Go someplace else and build a community. There are places in the USA that need change, need rescue, that actually want you to come and help. Unless you have a boatload of money, that’s not Seattle.

      10. “I know there’s a fantastic hunger to live in Wallingford. That’s why a house there costs over 1 million dollars.”

        That’s because there’s not enough Wallingfords! If Pierce County had more walkable areas like Wallingford and better transit, people wouldn’t demand Wallingford so much and drive up the price to a million dollars.

      11. No way you can buy a remodeled SFH in Wallingford not on 45th for $1 million. I would be surprised if any listed for under $2 million.

        FWIW I know two couples who sold their house in Wallingford and moved to MI when their kids hit school age. They didn’t get the same quality of house but got a bigger lot and garage. Pre-kids they loved living in Wallingford, except for the parking, traffic and property crime.

        Last summer I drove through Wallingford to have dinner in Freemont where my son was working. Wallingford sure has gentrified since I lived on Meridian about 40 years ago. Stunning restorations. Only problems I saw were the number of cars parked on the street and the traffic.

        For some reason Wallingford is every Seattle urbanist’s fantasy. Traditional SFH in a neighborhood just urban enough, unlike say Laurelhurst.

      12. > Retrofitting density into a City presently is pure folly– there’s just no cost effective way of doing it
        The city just needs to upzone? It doesn’t cost that much.

        > The way forward shouldn’t include ripping down good stuff built in the past. I know there’s a fantastic hunger to live in Wallingford. That’s why a house there costs over 1 million dollars. But ripping down million dollar houses to shitty modern apartments isn’t a solution.

        I find it again ironic you keep bringing up Wallingford when building something like Wallingford in other Seattle neighborhoods is explicitly forbidden under existing zoning rules.

        > First the roads, sidewalks and sewers are built to scale… so there’s a limit of redevelopment before the place stops being so wonderful.

        South Lake Union and Capitol Hill aren’t overfilling in sewage after building apartments…

        > It’s a Big Country. If you can’t afford Seattle, go find someplace you can afford. Go someplace else and build a community.

        That was the attitude of the many middle classes to the lower income one’s in San Francisco/Los Angeles and many other metro areas. And continually constricted the housing supply until they out-priced themselves.

        > Look up how L.A. used rail to clean out the Asians out of Chinatown. Sound Transit currently plans on using TOD to push African-Americans out of Hilltop, Tacoma. I still think when the party is over with this 2nd Seattle tunnel, much of the CID will end up high end Lily White. All the NW charm of modest 1920s bungalows down the street from a friendly corner tavern is being overrun with ugly money… But ripping down million dollar houses to shitty modern apartments isn’t a solution

        So building in low income areas is gentrification, while building in high income areas is destroying the character. So your ‘solution’ is to build nothing?

      13. “For some reason Wallingford is every Seattle urbanist’s fantasy.”

        My ideal is more like the U-District or Chicago’s North Side. Wallingford on 45th is rather small, and single-family Wallingford is offensive. That’s too close to the urban areas of a large city to leave it like that.

        When I do bring up Wallingford as an example, it’s a minimum. And it’s partly because a late commentator, John Bailo, who was a suburbanist like you, talked about putting Wallingfords in Kent. Yes, that would be great. North Kent (240th) has the small lots, it just needs some missing-middle housing and mixed-in businesses. Put Wallingfords in Renton and the Eastside and Pierce County. We need some Capitol Hills there too.

      14. WL

        When I came to Seattle, it was a much different place. There was much more opportunity for a “non-college graduate” like myself. That just isn’t true anymore and it’s sad.

        If you can’t afford to live there now, if you don’t see some sort of economic opportunity for yourself, like owning real estate…. I don’t see that happening with zoning changes or development. Don’t look for a political solution to your economic problem. Mayor Harrell isn’t going to build you housing that you can afford, neither will House Our Neighbors, the I-135 crowd, or anybody else. You are on your own.

        I didn’t work on the tear down and rebuild of Belltown or South Lake Union, but I was around before Paul Allen bought the place. It was a rundown sleepy collection of back offices and print shops. The commercial fishing fleet of Alaska had a lot of offices there, and it was well known that if you were down-and-out, you get a job fishing there. It’s mostly completely new now, from the utilities and streets on up. If you want the “Amazon” treatment for Wallingford… well, let’s disagree on that.

        I’ll post this link again. It’s really worth reading. Josh Feit, Mr. Let’s-re-zone-the-entire-city-for-growth, AKA The New York Groover, gets his undies in bunch because the Grand Illusion Theater is getting bulldozed for crappy condos. Mr. Feit goes on about how a bunch houses ought to be bulldozed and his beloved theater shouldn’t (full disclosure, I to love the Grand Illusion). Rezoning and allowing growth doesn’t work that way. The things you love about a place die…. and honestly some other things you love may appear… but I wouldn’t count on it.

      15. Daniel: “No matter how much upzoning a city does the amount of housing that is actually built will stay the same.”

        This doesn’t compute for me. An old house in Shoreline, near one of the Link stations, gets replaced by 6-7 townhomes. A group of 6-10 homes gets converted to 200-400 apartment units. It is just NOT possible there would have been that much housing built without the upzones.

        Is your argument that the station areas should not have been upzoned, and that those new housing should have been built in areas that are already zoned for townhomes and midrises, in order “to exhaust that current existing zoning.”

        I just don’t see why a builder would take a risk building to the currently allowed zoning limit, without a clear indication of buyer/renter demand balanced agains costs and risks. Areas that attract new residents, like Link station areas, lessens the risk with regards to expected demand, especially with walkable retail and destination. And therefore those areas should be upzoned and TOD encouraged. Why would anyone argue against the idea of upzones where people find attractive to live, and there are willing property sellers, and wlll prevent unsustainable sprawl?

        The upzones near me (Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood) have definitely led to more housing being built, and would not have been realized all within the pre-upzone mixed-use areas, although even there, new 6-8 story buildings were built. Every new housing unit helps.

      16. tacomee: “It’s a Big Country. If you can’t afford Seattle, go find someplace you can afford.”

        Of course, I know younger relatives who moved farther up north in Lynnwood, because closer in Shoreline and Edmonds, 2-bedroom apartments are more expensive. A few have mentioned Arizona, it’s cheaper there.

        But as “wealthier” residents take up the housing at the edges of affordability, Lynnwood becomes more expensive, so then priced out residents should move to Mukilteo and Lake Stevens. Keep repeating this pattern until you get unsustainable sprawl, the opposite of walkable cities.

        If you are okay with sprawl, and assuming it’s easy for people to move, then there is no problem with your advice. For the rest of us who see not-so-wealthy relatives somehow being able to afford living in Capitol Hill and other more built-up neighborhoods, the sustainable solution is to encourage dense, walkable neighborhoods that doesn’t require car-associated expenses (parking, maintenance, insurance, etc). This is why the idea of upzones and TOD makes sense to me, and when I look around my neighborhood, I see it working to some extent. The new housing prices may not be super affordable, but it’s better than most of the older houses that get replaced.

      17. I would tone down the “The new housing prices may not be super affordable, but it’s better than most of the older houses that get replaced.” claim a little.

        “Better” in what way? For many, old affordable housing is better than new less affordable housing. Some may be okay with a bigger yard and an older house; some may not care about the yard but don’t want shared walls. All of these things are fair preferences and it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

        We can certainly make the argument that society, as a whole, benefits from certain choices, like replacing old housing stock with new. But let’s not go as far as claiming universal goodness for those choices. It’s what gets people’s hackles raised.

      18. “Mr. Feit goes on about how a bunch houses ought to be bulldozed and his beloved theater shouldn’t”

        He doesn’t say that; he says he’ll miss the theater building. Everyone has certain places they’re attached to, and humans aren’t fully consistent in their philosophies. I miss The Last Exit and the Vogue. Feit says right in the article he won’t join a crusade to save the building because he recognizes it’s against his general values.

      19. “If you can’t afford Seattle, go find someplace you can afford”

        That was reasonable when it meant going from Seattle to Renton or Kent. Then it meant going to Pierce County or Everett. Mark Dublin had to go to Olympia. Then you had to move out of the entire state, and now there are only a few places in the country where prices aren’t rising. You can’t put all lower-income Washingtonians or a hundred million lower-income Americans in just a few areas. And if you did, the prices would rise there too. Even if you can afford lower-cost parts of the country, you’re displacing a local for whom prices are rising faster than their income. That’s really not sustainable. Eventually you’d have to move outside the US, and lower-income people are the least able to get foreign passports.

        If you’re looking for house rather than just trying to find the cheapest apartment, you do have other alternatives. You could buy a small house with a small yard, a condo, or stay in an apartment and invest the rest of your spare income. The biggest thing I want in life is to live in a walkable neighborhood, so if I havqe to forego home ownership or spend some of my entertainment money or travel money in order to do it, well, that’s entertaining to me.

      20. Anonymouse: “as far as claiming universal goodness”
        I didn’t, I said “most”, not “all”. But I’m also okay taking back that last statement, it’s not critical to the point that I was making.

        But if you must referee, why not also call out tacomee on this statement: “Generally speaking, the older built stuff is better in every way.” Surely older HVAC systems are not always better, although I generally like the construction materials and design of some older houses.

        “Better in what way?”: As I’ve walked through my Link station neighborhood over the years, about 1/4 of the old houses that got replaced are just old and not well maintained. Another 1/4 are average 1970s and older houses, maybe structurally better than newer houses but also the insulation/HVAC and plumbing are likely worse than newer houses. Another 1/4 are average 1980+ houses where the materials (siding, flooring, counters, etc) may be less durable than before, but a bit better in other ways like fire protection and maybe insulation. The last 1/4 are “classics” that stand out in the neighborhood, houses that has been maintained well and the system look upgraded/renovated. I didn’t like to see these houses get torn down. That’s why I had said “most” (not “all”) when comparing new builds versus what was replaced.

      21. As someone who lives in a mid-century home, I can definitely attest that not all old construction is good :) There are definitely very… weird things in this house, not all of which date from remodels done over the years. So yeah, totally agree that I don’t buy that either.

        I expect that some of the old materials were of higher quality – as I recall, the framing was done with thicker wood beams, for example (not the supports but the actual 2x4s and so on). Someone who’s been in the industry could give some of those details. Of course, old homes also have lead paint and asbestos problems, potentially – so that’s another way in which they are not “better”.

        The reason I explicitly called the “newer is better” out is because of the corollary, “even if more expensive” bit, and I just don’t think it’s that absolute a consideration, _especially_ because they’re also more expensive, heh. But I can appreciate how it may have seemed unfair, so I apologize for that.

      22. Is the goal that upzoning and new construction will make Seattle neighborhoods as affordable as Capitol Hill?

        I don’t follow Capitol Hill housing/rental costs. Are they reasonable after all the multi-family/middle housing upzoning? How does Capitol Housing costs per sf compare to the rest of Seattle considering its housing density?

      23. Capitol Hill rents are typical of walkable areas like the U-District and Ballard. My 2004 1 BR is $1925; to a new person it might be $2100. Rainier Valley or Lynnwood is a few hundred dollars less. Prices started rising 5-10% per year from 2003-2008, then went down a bit in the recession, then in 2012 started rising 5-15% per year until 2020. My increase in 2022 was only 3%, while other areas were higher. I attribute that to the fact it grew faster than other neighborhoods in the 2010s that it couldn’t grow much more now.

      24. @Daniel Thompson

        Housing supply and demand is regional not local with broadly speaking the demand being number jobs or population and the supply the units of housing or residential floor space in a metro area.. Sure some smaller amenities or detractions can lead one neighborhood to be more desired or less desired than others but that’s not the main factor.

        > I don’t follow Capitol Hill housing/rental costs. Are they reasonable after all the multi-family/middle housing upzoning?

        People in Capitol Hill can move in from other metro areas or also work in areas outside of Capitol Hill. The more correct question is has the Seattle metro area built/upzoned enough housing relative to it’s job growth.

        > By 2020, jobs reached 620,000 but homes only grew 368,000. While 60,000 new homes sounds great, Seattle remains 45,000 homes short of matching its 2010 jobs to homes ratio. Seattleites have experienced firsthand how when there isn’t enough housing to match job growth, housing costs spike.

        Or from Seattle city itself:

        > Despite a historic surge in new construction, housing supply is not keeping pace with demand. The rate of new housing production in Seattle is higher than it has been in several decades. However, Seattle has been gaining jobs at an even faster pace. Between 2005 and 2019, Seattle would have needed to produce an additional 9,000 housing units to maintain its baseline ratio of jobs to housing units. This shortage of housing supply increases competition for each available unit, driving up rents and housing prices across the market.

      25. Capitol Hill is extremely popular, so it’s not like the vacancy rate is very high.

        However, the last time I was considering housing (pre-pandemic), I could find relatively affordable (janky, but affordable) apartments via Craigslist. I’m sure if I spent more time in the neighborhood paying attention to “for lease” signs, there would be affordable apartments available.

        There’s been a lot of commentary on the character of neighborhoods, and the cost of redevelopment. Maybe those commentators need reminding that Downtown Seattle had single-story homes before the rise of the skyscrapers. Very few apartments (in any city) were built as greenfield development – they almost all followed a more organic pattern of densification over time. To say that neighborhoods should never change is a fundamentally toxic and unsustainable (in any sense of the word) attitude on par with stating that if someone never takes any risks, they will never die. Buildings age, people age, and buildings get replaced, and people get replaced. You can choose to leave a better neighborhood for your (or your neighbors’) kids, or you can choose to force your family to live tens, hundreds, thousands of miles away because they can’t compete in with too many people for too little housing.

        I, for one, would like kids (or, more accurately, my neighbors’s kids) to be able to live near their parents if they so choose, and I think that’s part of planning for a 15-minute city, where every neighborhood is dense enough such that all common businesses (and a few luxury ones) are economically sustained by a customer base within 0.5-1 miles of the business’ front door.

      26. Hello everyone,

        I think some of you have got me wrong. I’m 100% pro growth, 100% pro transit, 100% 15 minute neighborhood, 100% pro development in general.

        My question is…. what is the way forward? I don’t think the growth pattern over the last 30 years have been the right way for Greater Seattle, so how do we fix that? Here’s what I’d guess is the right way forward.

        Euro-style density. Because there’s no way to tear down houses and build anything remotely affordable, the answer is build more houses (ADUs) in the yards of existing houses. This system has worked in places like Ravenna Italy for hundreds of years… as families built 2 homes (or more) on lots. All Seattle needs to do cut down on all the fees and permits (and stupid rules) and let it happen… organically… over time. This will fix most of the density issues Seattle has over the span of 25 years.

        Double down on existing transit. Remodel the old bus tunnel, hire a robust transit security and janitorial staff, add better bus service all over Puget Sound. Start with a public vote to increase funding public housing… by killing off Sound Transit. Fire the staff, get rid the stupid board. We’ll need a regional transit provider, but that should be an agreement between Metro, Pierce Transit and Community Transit. Any more new train lines will need to voted on by the public. Transit should be planned in 5 year timespans…. not 30.

        If you’re really into urban planning and want to part of the solution, I’ve been thinking about starting a national ADU kit. I’m thinking of plans for something like a 24′ X 24′ basic house (at two stories that’s around 1000 sq ft) that should be public domain and available for builders to use for lower cost ADUs…. with sets of free plans (pre-approved by the city), it makes the path to a ADU much, much easier…. xxxxxtacomee0@yahoo.comxxxx

      27. Daniel: “Is the goal that upzoning and new construction will make Seattle neighborhoods as affordable as Capitol Hill?”

        I realize Capitol Hill is not the most affordable area in Seattle if you compare rent $/sq. foot. But I know people who compensate by having smaller apartments and not owning cars, so the cost of housing becomes comparable to lower suburban rents but with car/convenience-associated costs.

        I assume that the goal of upzoning in Seattle is similar to those around the Lynnwood Link stations: to have more walkable, transit-oriented development, which (over a decade?) could eventually resemble the convenience of living in Capitol Hill or U-District. The more desirable neighborhoods we have, the less housing price pressure we’ll have in these areas and “moving elsewhere” becomes more viable since there’ll be more not-far-away options.

      28. tacomee: “Euro-style density: All Seattle needs to do cut down on all the fees and permits (and stupid rules) and let it happen… organically… over time. ”

        This requires zoning reform, which you’ve basically been putting down as useless (or at least that’s how your posts comes across to me).

      29. Edgar S.

        Maybe I wasn’t clear, regardless of zoning, it’s impossible to tear down existing houses and build housing that’s cheaper. It’s just a question of math, not zoning.

        Construction is a complicated industry I actually don’t fully understand. Everything is built on credit and paid off over a number of years. Then there building upkeep and management on property. there’s a lot of moving parts. But here’s why ADUs make more sense than other residential density options.

        ADU’s don’t require tearing anything down, so projects don’t start a million dollars +++ in the hole. This market is mom and pop builder friendly.

        The sidewalks and sight lines stay the same and the growth happens organically over time.

        ADUs are actually preferred places to live. Not as much ugly “stack and pack” housing and people don’t want to live in.

        Yes, there has to be some zoning changes for ADUs to thrive. The first thing needed are some stock (and low cost) plans to build a house so the up front plans are held down. Second, other than a buffer zone between properties, and access rights, the square foot lot requirements and “save the trees” rules need to get tossed in the dumpster. Third, after 5 years, any ADU should be able to be split into a separate lot and sold. Fourth, all the silly owner living on site rules need to be trashed.

        Anybody who currently owns a house in Seattle could cash in on an ADU in a number of ways, making this politically possible. I don’t understand why I can’t sell off my backyard to a developer for cash so they can build another house… there’s a lot less impact on the neighborhood that way, I’d stay in my house and get paid a lot of money.

        As far as density goes… maybe 2-3% a year over 10-15 years? Every time a house sells, investors could build an ADU, if the market stays hot… if not? Things stay pretty much the same.

      30. tacomee: “so projects don’t start a million dollars +++ in the hole”

        I agree with this, yes, that’s a cost hurdle for new construction that require demolishing an existing SFH. As a homeowner, I agree that the math of a no-teardown, new ADU/housing construction is more likely to pencil out for me and not an investor-driven developer.

        But still, if ADUs are not allowed at all, then let’s not even bother with any cost vs price computations. No ADU will get built wherever strict SFH zoning with height and vast setbacks are required. That’s why in many SFH-dominated places, allowing ADUs is considered an upzone, just watch the NIMBYs react. No organic growth happens in many restrictively zoned areas. That’s how it was in my neighborhood in most of the two decades that I’ve lived here. When you dismiss the importance of zoning reform, very little housing will get built, ADU or not.

      31. Edgar,

        This is what I see on website:

        “In NR3, NR2, and NR1 zones, up to two ADUs may be constructed. This can be either two AADUs or one AADU and one DADU. The second unit must meet specific criteria to either 1) meet green building standards or 2) be an affordable unit reserved for income-eligible households. In Neighborhood Residential Small Lots (RSL) and multifamily lowrise zones, only one attached or detached accessory dwelling unit is permitted for each single-family, rowhouse, or townhouse unit. ADUs are not allowed in apartments in lowrise zones, but are allowed in apartments in RSL zones.”

        NR1-3 are the neighborhood residential areas, i.e. the SFH areas, per

        I am wondering why you say that ADUs are not currently allowed, given the above. I am sure that I am missing some details – can you please explain?

      32. Maybe I wasn’t clear, regardless of zoning, it’s impossible to tear down existing houses and build housing that’s cheaper. It’s just a question of math, not zoning.

        That is absurd. I’ve given you real world examples where it has happened. Just think about it:

        You have a small house on a big lot. If the house was on a small lot, it would be worth somewhere around 700K. But because it is on a big lot, the house (and lot) go for 2 million. They then build a half dozen townhouses. These go for 500K. Shazam! You’ve actually given a lot of people a cheaper place to live. But wait, how about instead of building townhouses, you build condos. Now you have a 20 unit building, and the 2-bedroom condos go for 350K. Again, a lot more people have a cheaper place to live.

        This is what other countries do. Countries like Japan and Germany aren’t sprawling like Phoenix. They are building where houses existed before. Old houses are being replaced by two houses, or apartment buildings. That is how thing are affordable.

        Here is another way to think of it. In Japan, about 70% of the cost of new construction is the existing land. My guess is it is similar in Seattle. But land where they allow density is rare, so that land goes for a lot more. It is not that the value of the existing structures is so high, it is that the value of the land is so high (because it is rare). If more land is available for development, the price of land drops. You see more homes being built, even when the price of a new home drops. Older homes (specifically older apartments, condos, townhouses) drop in price as well. They aren’t quite as nice as the new ones and they have a lot more competition. That is how cities in other parts of the world get cheaper housing.

        We have several things standing in the way. One is zoning. One big issue is lot size. It is very common in Japan to have tiny lots (of less than 1,000 square feet). In most Seattle neighborhoods, the smallest lot size varies from 5,000 to 9,000 square feet. Then there are rules against density. I happen to live on a 9,000 square foot lot. I can’t build a small apartment or add a bunch of townhouses. There are also pointless setbacks, and other regulations that make it very difficult to add density — many would say that is the point.

        But it isn’t just zoning. There are a lot of other regulations that muck things up. Obviously we need health and safety regulations. But larger apartments go through a tedious design review that really just delays the construction. Some have said it makes for a nicer building — I say it adds to blight. I’ve seen plenty of empty lots sit there for a really long time, as they go through the design review.

        The point being, we should make it easy to add density in this city, like it is in other countries. Of course it will take a while, but that is what we should do.

      33. Edgar S.

        Oh, yeah, I understand that zoning has to change… and it will, because in the end, it’s all about money. New housing will be built in Seattle because there are high AMI people who want it. Affordability isn’t part of the equation.

        The great thing about a stronger push for ADUs is allows NIMBYs to get paid handsomely…. and that’s how change happens, the Money gets Paid. For some families, (including some of my own) new ADU zoning would allow for families of wealth and privilege who own homes to build houses for their children and continue generations of wealth and privilege with “family compounds”. This sort of arrangement is very popular in Spain and Italy. The idea that a big expensive home is going to be torn down for affordable housing is crazy.

        You’d be surprised at how many Seattle old farts who constantly oppose growth would sell their backyard to developer in a New York minute. “what’s in it for me?”

        If the City would let owners divide lots, every time a home sold, there’s a chance a developer could buy it, build a second house in back and sell them separately. I honestly can see the 1000 sq ft. in back selling for something over 800k in many neighborhoods however. So it would add density, but do nothing for affordability I’m afraid.

        Affordability in greater Seattle just might not be possible… The market is what it is…. even the best non-profits can’t seem to build one bedroom units for under 300K… even with a baseline rent of $2500 a month, the profit on new apartments is real low. One myth that many young progressives believe is that the evil landlord is pocketing half of your rent and I can honestly say that’s just not true.

        When I say Seattle is played out and young people should take a look at leaving…. it’s not because I’m some NIMBY or some old hater. It’s just the math.

        As a closing thought… for what Greater Seattle is paying Sound Transit , we could have built thousands of units of owner occupied housing tucked into environmentally sound “15 minute cities” in Eastern Washington, or even the Olympic Peninsula. Cascadia reborn I guess? With WFH, that’s likely to happen anyway I’d guess.

      34. Ross,

        You said that you live on a 9000 sq ft lot. My reading of the code says that you may add up to two ADU/DADU units. Have you considered doing so? Why or why not? If you have considered it, when do you plan to do it and what is holding you back from doing it? Would you be more or less willing to add some other form of housing, e.g. apartments or townhouses, if that were allowed? Why or why not?

      35. Anonymouse, the zoning you cite is only five years old. The new zoning allowed each residential lot to house three separate dwellings, and the UGA’s were expanded. It was a bloody fight, but the citizens were guaranteed this new zoning would solve our housing affordability issues.

        Now we are being told allowing a four plex, with the same regulatory limits, will solve the housing shortage, and new construction will lower rents. So a four bedroom SFH with two ADU/DADU’s (six bedrooms) will now be a four plex with a separate bathroom, kitchen and living area for each unit that will yield 4 total bedrooms of new construction.

        And we are being guaranteed this will now finally solve Seattle’s housing issues, except once again we are dispersing this housing to remote SFH zones and builders can or will build only so many housing units each year, so once again we populate suburbia and depopulate what is this region are considered “urban” areas.

      36. Tacomee, Mercer Island has long had what was considered a model ADU/DADU policy: any residential lot can building, and lots beloe 10,000 sf get an additional 5% gross floor area for the DADU.

        But there are three problems:

        1. They are very expensive to build after the main house is built. Around twice the cost of the main house because you are effectively building a small house. Although there is minimal permitting for the DADU they are still subject to all building codes, and usually need a larger water and sewer line which after completion cost around double the monthly fee even if the DADU is vacant. The DADU can be 220 sf to 900 sf. Common bids to build one are around $250,000 on MI, or around $500 sf. Much cheaper to just rent a room in your house.

        2. There is no transit in the residential neighborhoods and no retail. You need a car.

        3. Since the DADU is basically in the back yard the owner — who must live onsite — is VERY picky about whom they rent to.

        4. They are very expensive, more expensive than an apartment in the TC per sf without the safety of a secured building.

        5. They take away the back yard. Most MI homeowners don’t need the rental income. So very few are built in wealthy zones. They are more commonly built in lower income zones like S. Seattle where the owner does not have to live onsite. Probably the same that will happen if SFH lots are allowed to be four plexes.

      37. I wasn’t specifically thinking of ADUs in Seattle when talking about zoning, so maybe I’m off-topic by including (in my head) the general Puget Sound area when I mentioned “upzones” or “zoning reform”. I’m mostly trying to disarm the anti-upzone/NIMBY attitude in the inner-ring suburbs of Seattle area when it comes to discussions of transit-oriented development and upzones, so I’m talking in general terms. I hope this makes more sense if you consider the vocal opposition to upzones in a few East Side Link stations.

        To clarify my point about restrictive zoning, the qualifications for the second ADU in Seatte’s zoning (that you quote) is well-intentioned, but also a barrier for some homeowners who are not willing to deal with that level of paperwork. And in RSL areas, is says the second ADU is not allowed, so even there, the math is not relevant for that 2nd ADU. (Although, I might agree this restriction makes sense in small lots/townhomes).

        My main point is overly restrictive zoning discourages organic growth. This is not a controversial point of view, and yet the opposite claims (“upzoning is useless”, “let’s exhaust already available zoning first”) is made repeatedly in this blog’s comments as though it hasn’t been analyzed by city planners before. And why does the burden of proof lies on those who hold the standard view, simply because the usual-view holder has construction or litigation experience?

  15. “My childhood village, Ridgecrest in Shoreline, had stores”

    What all was there then? I see the tiny North City cluster at 175th & 15th NE and think of all the lost potential, and how it wouldn’t be enough if I lived there. What was it like before? And where is Ridgecrest; is that the center or is it somewhere else?

    1. Based on Shoreline’s website, it was N.E. 165th to 155th, 5th to 10th. Google seems to have expanded it to 175th to the north and I-5 to the west.

      I am curious about eddiew’s perspective, though. There are a couple interesting posts on the Shoreline Historical Museum’s facebook page detailing some history:

    2. As an aside, having lived just outside of North City for a number of years, the business district is quite large and could easily support everything necessary to be a 15-minute village, or whatever we want to refer to it as.

      But because it is surrounded by a sea of R-8 zoning (8 residences per acre), the business district has attracted mostly fairly marginal businesses.

      The housing stock around North City is pretty low-value construction, and I am sure many of the owners in and around Lake City would love to bulldoze and replace their 1000 sq ft deteriorating, low-grade construction rambler with a 4 or 6-plex.

      Considering it is a village that is just blocks from a light rail station that is soon to open, I hope Shoreline starts to paint some of that sea of yellow around North City on their zoning map brown and aqua.

      Maybe they already have started that process. The fire and Suni’s suggests perhaps some might already think that’s going to happen.

      1. I’ll have to look at North City again. I thought it was only a couple buildings. I may not have seen all of it or misinterpreted what I saw, or it may have grown.

      2. @Mike Orr,

        North City has fallen on hard times.

        The Post Office moved out, and Suni’s burned (arson).

        There is a small brewery, but it is in a former spay and neuter clinic. I find it hard to relax there.

      3. Oh, Cam said North City could be a 15-minute neighborhood, not that it is now. That’s closer to my understanding.

      4. That is right. I think changing the zoning and creating more walkable density will potentially improve the business mix to fill in some of the gapsit currently has. I hadn’t heard about the post office though. That is seriously odd. It was huge and extremely well used. It was my home post office in Lake City, because the closest one was over extended.

        Sounds more like USPS budget disfunction, more than anything peculiar to North City. Though more density up there might have helped save it.

      5. @Cam,

        Ya. I don’t really understand the Post Office moving, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the neighborhood. The neighborhood actually isn’t that bad, and will probably see increasing development now that Link is so close to opening.

        But the loss of the Post Office hurts. Now my in-laws have to go to Aurora for packages, and it is a horrible facility.

        They don’t drive, so what would have been a short walk is now a 15 minute bus ride on an infrequent and unreliable bus. So they usually call me and have me drive up from Seattle and just drive them to the Post Office. Not good.

      6. I remember that at some point the downtown Bellevue post office closed, too, in favor of some bigger center somewhere in the middle of nowhere in East Bellevue (apologize for anyone who lives near the post office in East Bellevue). People I know who worked in downtown Bellevue at the time were very puzzled by this, because they had found the downtown one very busy.

        All this to say that yeah, I don’t expect the post office closures to be indicative of a problem with the neighborhood or lack of usage. It wasn’t the case in Bellevue and likely wasn’t the case in North City either.

      7. The Post Office on 175th and 15th moved, because the property got sold to a developer, which built the Postmark apartment complex on that site. I guess they were not able to find another suitable North City location by the end of their lease, so in the meantime, they decided to split their facility between 185th/Aurora and Mountlake Terrace/Cinebarre.

      8. Why are people holding up North City as a model for 15-minute neighborhoods? There is nothing special about North City in relation to the 15 minute discussion. It’s a typical small Seattle neighborhood with a small commercial component. There are dozens of Seattle neighborhoods just like it.

      9. @Sam,

        North City is actually in Shoreline, or “North Shoreline” if you go by the Link station name.

        But I don’t think anyone is citing NC as an example of an existing 15-min city, there just isn’t enough “there” there for it to qualify as such.

        But it does have some elements of a 15-min city, and it is both massively underdeveloped and not too far from a future Link station. As such, it is an interesting case study inTOD and urban redevelopment around Link.

        So worth paying attention too for future lessons learned.

      10. @Edgar,

        “ The Post Office on 175th and 15th moved, because the property got sold to a developer”

        Ah, that explains it. So USPS didn’t own the site and lost their lease.

        But it really is too bad that they couldn’t find another site in the neighborhood. All the way over on Aurora just isn’t good.

      11. I think using North City as an example of 15 minute urbanism is a reflection of how dumbed down the definition of urbanism is in this area. In true urban areas Capitol Hill and Ballard would be considered suburban. Here they are considered in the same urbanism comparisons as Paris.

        Our fundamental problem we continue to repeat is to disperse population, housing and retail density throughout a huge undense region. In a true urban setting there would be no North City, and if federal criteria don’t support a single post office you are effectively rural.

        It is why I shake my head when Mercer Island is the highest scoring city or neighborhood under this area’s criteria for ranking 15 minute cities. This just tells me many haven’t been to areas with true urbanism, which have true facade and retail density along with true housing density (as opposed to four plexes in remote SFH zones). This area has just never understood how to zone if you want urbanism — the walls of the swimming pool — and then WFH and bad policy made the one area true urbanism could exist in this region — downtown Seattle — a ghost town between Yesler and Pine. Instead we tell ourselves urbanism will come when ten million climate refugees arrive. Arrive to what?

        We are so desperate for any urbanism we define North City as a 15 minute urban neighborhood rather than asking ourselves why our policies and zoning have created such an undense three county area. Instead we are getting ready to double down on that original zoning error.

        I like Mercer Island, but I find it depressing MI is effectively the highest scoring city/neighborhood under this area’ understanding of the criteria to rank 15 minute cities, or that anyone would consider North City a 15 minute city.

      12. “I think using North City as an example of 15 minute urbanism is a reflection of how dumbed down the definition of urbanism is in this area.”

        It was a mistake: I thought Cam said North City was a 15-minute neighborhood, which didn’t jive with my memory. Then I read more clearly that he only meant it has the potential to be — which of course it does. Just like 145th & 15th or 155th & 5th could be with the right development. They aren’t far out either, so 15-minute neighborhoods would be welcome there.

      13. North City has significant MF housing and could have more; it has a super market, several restaurants, a jazz club, a fire station, several taverns, and Frank’s Doors. It served by routes 347 and 348.

        I think the retail Ridgecrest village is centered at 5th Avenue NE and NE 165th Street. Today, it has a convenience store, a multiplex, a pub, a coffee shop, a garage. It is served by Route 347. Pubs are correlated with high pedestrian scores.
        In 1960, it a single screen theater, ice cream parlor, candy store, shoe repair, and other little stores.

  16. Glad to see that “destinations” are recognized in this article, including middle and high schools often offer after-school activities, which are often forgotten. The same holds true for grade schools and for private schools, which usually don’t have transportation and, when both parents work outside of the home, kids in day care.

  17. Here’s a website that rates Seattle neighborhoods according to the 15-minute idea. Top on the list: CBD, ID, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market. Lowest on the list: Rainier View, Georgetown, parts of Delridge, parts of West Seattle. It seems like if a neighborhood is missing just one thing, like a public library, it goes to the bottom of the list, like with Madison Park, which seems to have everything under the website’s “standard” category, but a public library.

    I’m also beginning to realize that while a neighborhood may technically be a 15-minute neighborhood because it has a supermarket, a public library, a bus stop to downtown, a public park, a restaurant, a coffee shop, etc., many of us are very particular about which shops we patronize. Anyone remember the lady who lives in Issaquah who was interviewed about the 130th Link station opening, and said she can’t wait until it opens so she can drive from Issaquah to South Bellevue station, park, then take Link to 130th station, then walk the rest of the way to her hair salon appointments in Pinehurst? There must be over a couple of dozen hair salons in Issaquah, correct? My point being, while having coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, etc., within a 15-minute neighborhood will be great for some, the imaginary 15-minute self-contained area will be meaningless for others, who will drive or take transit as far as they have to, to get to the very specific stores, restaurants, and shops, they are loyal to. Still, I do like the idea of neighborhood that checks a lot of boxes in terms of what services are nearby.

    1. It would be nice to see measurements of areas people believe to be “15 minute” neighborhoods, in terms of what proportion of trips stay within the neighborhood. This goes in the direction you are mentioning, but takes it a step further – if a neighborhood technically fulfills the definition, but a majority of trips still is taken outside the neighborhood, then the definition is insufficient. Further information about what kind of trips are taken outside the neighborhood will tell us if the issue is what you are suggesting (collocation of specific shops etc. which people are loyal to), missing amenities, job-related travel, or something else. I am sure that such studies exist, so if someone has any to share, that would be amazing. Looking to the usual suspects who provide interesting links, of course :)

      1. I’m confused. If bus stops from a “15 minute” neighborhood or city, along with a Link Station AWAY from the 15-minute neighborhood, are primary factors whether a city or neighborhood is a 15 minute neighborhood dies that mean a covered garage, freeway entrance, and good Uber service are also primary factors? I thought the point of a 15 minute city or neighborhood is you didn’t have to leave it.

        When I read all the factors for a 15 minute city MI is number one in every factor: bus stop for several buses to downtown Seattle and Bellevue, Link station, parks, critical retail like grocery stores, parks, library, you name it.

        I love MI and have lived in world class urban cities and visited many more, but I am sorry: I don’t think MI’s town center is the 15 minute neighborhood the mayor of Paris was referring to, a city I have spent a lot of time in. To paraphrase Lloyd Benson, Seattle is no Paris. (I won’t bring up Everett, Lynnwood, Shoreline or anything south of Seattle).

        If MI is the number one 15 minute city based on the criteria one of two things is happening:

        1. The criteria are manipulated, likely to support transit rather than 15 minute cities that are about RETAIL.

        2. This region has no real urbanism, 15 minute neighborhoods/cities, let alone anything resembling Paris.

        Both are true.

      2. @Daniel Thompson

        The 15 minute concept is kinda purposely semi-vague and more of a goal to to attain. (*It just sounds better than and less clinical than saying every person have walkable grocery store, etc… within 10000 meters) Also the 15-minute concept allows for transportation and biking/micro mobility to be used a bit more. The more solid definition is for the 15-minute to be more about walking and biking distances. But it can be loosened to transit too.

        > When I read all the factors for a 15 minute city MI is number one in every factor: bus stop for several buses to downtown Seattle and Bellevue, Link station, parks, critical retail like grocery stores, parks, library, you name it.

        For example while north mercer island can reach the town center easily within a bike able 15 minutes, that isn’t quite true for south mercer island, perhaps to attain the goal one could build or encourage more clinics/libraries or restaurants near the south qfc. Though that’d probably require more housing nearby to support such retail so it’s a tradeoff. Or perhaps build a protected bike lane on Island Crest Way to increase the distance that bikers that can reach the town center in 15 minutes etc.

        > When I read all the factors for a 15 minute city MI is number one in every factor: bus stop for several buses to downtown Seattle and Bellevue, Link station, parks, critical retail like grocery stores, parks, library, you name it.

        You can decrease or increase what ‘amenities’ are desired. Perhaps if your intention is a bakery/library etc… for every resident attainable within 15 minutes only using walking or biking then one would create map and look into either creating a new bakery/library or improving the bike paths so one can reach the existing one.

        * There used to be another idea called 5-minute city with the 5-minute walkshed, but it was kinda too hard to retrofit into most existing cities because it is just too small and didn’t really take into account biking etc so was seen as too inflexible. for example:

      3. DT, you are right Mercer Island doesn’t feel like Paris because MI isn’t really walkable at all for its southern 2/3rds. There aren’t even sidewalks. This region does have urbanism, but Mercer Island isn’t one of them.

      4. Downtown Mercer Island may be a 15-minute neighborhood, but Mercer Island as a whole is not. The vast majority of residents don’t live within walking distance of the downtown core.

    2. That was one of the source articles for this one; the link is in the second paragraph. What I like best is the interactive map that shows which amenities are widespread and which are the most deserts. From best to worst:

      1. Parks. These are all over the city, and its biggest success.
      2. Bus stops to downtown. Second-most widespread.
      3. Restaurants.
      4. Coffee shops. (Less important than restaurants, especially with their high price for what you get, which skews their benefit to higher-income people.)
      5. Supermarkets.
      6. Libraries. Ooh, it’s bad.
      7. Link stations. Over half the city is “’30+ minutes”. To be fair, we’re already working on that. And I’d like to see a layer with Link+RapidRide areas, or Link+RapidRide+full-time frequent.

      The school layers were harder to place; I’d put them around 4-6.

      “many of us are very particular about which shops we patronize.”

      Yes, that’s what I like about large urban centers like the U-District or the Capitol Hill/First Hill ridge: there are more choices. I don’t want just one QFC to choose from; I want a natural foods store too. But we have to start somewhere, and you can’t expect a natural foods store every mile.

      Re going from Issaquah to Pinehurst for a hair appointment, that’s an example of a unique business. That hair stylist may be uniquely talented, do unusual styles, the customer has gone to them for years, or the stylist may have moved from Issaquah to Pinehurst and the customer wants to stay with them. This happens all the time, and is part of the reason why you need both walkable neighborhoods and fast/frequent transit between them.

      People also travel to unique college programs, restaurants, farmers’ markets, band shows, yoga instructors, BJJ instructors, etc. My sleep nurse was at Swedish Cherry Hill, then she got transferred to Edmonds, and I wanted to stay with her. Because Edmonds is so hard to get to on transit, I now have online/phone appointments. (I’d assumed it was in downtown Edmonds, but looking at the map now it’s at 216th & 99, so that would be more doable.)

    3. “It would be nice to see measurements of areas people believe to be “15 minute” neighborhoods, in terms of what proportion of trips stay within the neighborhood.”

      There’s a lot of research that should be done. Which neighborhoods are missing which amenities? How self-contained is the neighborhood (meaning people leave it less than average)? This is where it would be good to get this into Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan or housing plan, so that the city will focus on it. Transit is one of the amenities a 15-minute neighborhood needs, so that should be looked at too. Transit to all neighboring 15-minute neighborhoods, and to a Link/RapidRide station.

      1. Yeah, those are exactly the sort of things I would love to see, Mike.

        How do we get some intrepid grad students at UW to pick this up… :)

  18. Some neighborhoods are also more contiguous than others. Like I go to the Met Market at LQA, eat at several of the restaurants there and visit Seattle Center quite frequently despite living on QA. And the area is walkable about 20 minutes for me and really just an extension of QA. The monorail also transfers fairly easily to the Link.

  19. Rather than to debate what are the attractions that make a great 15 minute neighborhood, I want to ask what is the critical mass to create what level of a 15 minute neighborhood.

    I consider “critical mass” to include both residential and destinations. There seems to be a natural desire to segregate all land uses in the discussion when it’s the interaction that makes a good neighborhood. Otherwise, a 30 story apartment tower that is in the middle of a forest is a “dense area” that is not a neighborhood.

    So what is the number of residents within 15 minute walk to support three coffee houses? A pizza restaurant? A gym?

    One we have a better sense of a “critical mass”, we can work backwards to increase the zoning to create enough residents within 15 minutes to support the businesses we want. We can also estimate how much square footage for neighborhood commercial is possible.

    Too often residential zoning discussions center on counting residences as units. What matters more for a neighborhood business is instead how many people are nearby. Units don’t dine out; people do.

    A large single family home may house 6 people, and tearing it down to build 4 townhouses that house 6 people is not adding population, for example. This gets into my criticism of max sizes on ADU’s because one 1 or 2 people will be living in one. If a home can become a “double” of two units in almost equal sizes, those 6 people may grow to 8!

    1. Those are the right questions. The cities that are implementing it have the criteria they’re implementing, so that’s a starting point. Nat Henry’s article has some. When I look at Northgate, it has all the things I can think of as I wrote above.

    2. Al, IMO it is retail not housing density that determines a 15 minute city. Population or housing density is worthless without the retail density to make the area walkable and retail complete.

      What I don’t think some understand is there is only so much retail a region can support. . If you disperse retail to every neighborhood you won’t have the retail density to make it walkable in an urban area.

      On the Eastside our condensed retail despite being able to support only so much retail —especially when downtown Seattle had retail competition -/— was the use zoning in the SFH zones that prohibited retail so it condensed in the commercial/retail zones.

      It is why a quintessentially suburban city like MI with downtown Seattle to the west (in the past) and areas to the east has better and more walkable retail density than most neighborhoods in Seattle (excluding late night clubs we prohibit anyway). We condensed what retail we could support and have the folks go to the retail rather than the way around, like U Villagr.

      1. @Daniel Thompson

        You can’t add retail at a walkable level if you have insufficient density.

        > What I don’t think some understand is there is only so much retail a region can support. . If you disperse retail to every neighborhood you won’t have the retail density to make it walkable in an urban area.

        That’s why Al S. is talking about zoning to make it so the area’s residential density is high enough to support the desired amenities/retail etc..

        > Al, IMO it is retail not housing density that determines a 15 minute city.

        I think you’ve kinda misinterpreted the 15-minute city goals, it is about whether people (housing) can reach the majority of their amenities within 15 minutes without driving. It can be achieved by either building more amenities but also by encouraging more housing as well.

        > areas to the east has better and more walkable retail density
        ??? The eastside is definitely not walkable for many from their homes to retail.

      2. WL,

        But increasing density isn’t going to increase the overall population available. I think you’re just agreeing with Daniel now, in that if retail requires a certain volume of people, and the overall population is fixed, then we should concentrate the density in specific areas to build those 15 minute cities/neighborhoods people want. And those who don’t want to live in them can remain in SFH home areas.

        You could argue that we should increase the population overall, but then we aren’t solving the problem of bringing housing to those who do not have it right now. Or are you arguing that we should abandon Auburn once Seattle is zoned appropriately? If so, fair, but then we should upzone only Seattle, and downzone Auburn. Which has been something some here have argued, too.

      3. There are hundreds of thousands of people without adequate retail in their neighborhood. Some of them drive to a big box store or strip mall because they like doing that and like those facilities, but many do it under duress because zoning has prevented retail from developing closer to them. It’s not normal to have vast residential-only areas. Daniel keeps saying “remote” and Sammamish, but we’ve got retail deserts right in Shoreline, North Seattle, and the Eastside between 100th and 180th that we could fill in.

      4. WL, Daniel Thompson idea of “walkable retail” is a mall (or if you’re fancy enough, an outdoor mall). You drive to some place, park, and walk around to the retail of largely chain stores. This is the only way he thinks his Eastside Mercer Island is more walkable than core Seattle neighborhoods like Queen Anne. It’s a joke.

      5. @Anonymouse

        > You could argue that we should increase the population overall, but then we aren’t solving the problem of bringing housing to those who do not have it right now.

        Seattle and other metro area cities keep increasing the number of jobs. If you want to keep the population down, then feel free to advocate for capping the number of offices/ approved jobs. That is the major factor that attracts people to move to the Seattle metro area. Though I guess on a national scale capping number of jobs doesn’t make much sense either for each metro area.

        > Or are you arguing that we should abandon Auburn once Seattle is zoned appropriately

        Upzoning and building new housing isn’t going to suddenly lead to the depopulation of Auburn. Seattle is behind it’s housing to job ratio and so is the Eastside.

        > In 2010, Seattle had 462,000 jobs and 308,000 homes. This was a ratio of 1.50 jobs to homes, a ratio that should have been maintained during this last decade of job growth. People move to cities for jobs and Seattle has had a lot of them. By 2020, jobs reached 620,000 but homes only grew 368,000. While 60,000 new homes sounds great, Seattle remains 45,000 homes short of matching its 2010 jobs to homes ratio.

        There’s other census data if you don’t want to believe in

      6. SLUer,

        Would you be so kind as to point to the outdoor mall in Mercer Island? I’ve never seen one the few times I’ve been there. I assume you don’t mean “strip malls” as you explicitly referred to a regular mall before the specification of the “outdoor” part.

      7. Let’s revisit retail 101 one more time for SLU’er.

        For retail to survive you need retail DENSITY. Otherwise it certainly isn’t walkable. So how do you get retail density? LOTS of customers. With lots of money. Unless you want The Ave.

        When we talk about a 15 minute city (really retail zone) how big are we talking about? For the average person at most 1/2 mile in each direction. How far can we assume someone can walk to it considering they have to carry their goods home? Based on transit stops around 1/4 mile. Less if you are shopping for a family. That is why retail density is so important.

        MI has 25,000 residents. It has three grocery stores: on the south end a very large high end QFC (for QFC), and on the N. End across from each other a large high end QFC and a very high end, very large Met Market.

        So how can 25,000 residents support three very large grocery stores?

        Because lots of Seattleites who live across the bridge (and actually have kids) drive across I-90 to shop because of the grocery store density, safety, selection, and massive surface parking, and it is such a quick shot across the bridge. Otherwise MI could never support all three grocery stores.

        Take Issaquah. Issaquah has 35,000 residents and is a true retail powerhouse from big box stores to restaurants to malls north of I-90 to about everything. It dwarfs any neighborhood in Seattle in retail despite its relatively small population. Its retail center is dense but huge, and it has a major hospital, maybe the best in the region. How do 35,000 residents support that amount of retail? They don’t. Issaquah probably gets 100,000 shoppers/day from all over the region who go for the retail density and because it is right on I-90.

        For SLU’er to think a strip of overpriced pizza shops, restaurants and brew pubs along Queen Anne Ave. is retail density, or could meet someone’s daily needs every day is precious but silly. I have many friends who live on Queen Anne. Some live too far to walk to the limited retail (really restaurants). All own cars. All drive to meet their daily needs. Sure we meet for a drink or expensive dinner, but the retail is mostly cute for the wealthy, not daily retail. Beacon Ave. also has a nice little string of cute restaurants.

        Another example is U Village, probably the only decent retail density in Seattle but without the big box stores and daily things like dry cleaners. The walkable density around it isn’t great but improving, transit is mediocre, and it is at the base of a hill and surrounded by students who generally are not wealthy.

        Could U Village survive on walk up customers? Of course not. It is why there is tons of free parking. But all those customers support a great retail mall which is why developers have built 2300 new units there, ranging in price from $2000 to $6000/mo.

        You can zone for retail but actually creating vibrant retail density is about the hardest thing to do, in part because there isn’t enough of it. It is very fickle. It is why the number one “urban village”, downtown, has terrible retail and virtually no retail density anymore, and is a good lesson about housing density y retail density.

        I don’t mind driving to real retail density. Taking the train or bus to retail density like U Village seems reasonable to me, certainly better than some run down corner grocery like in Ravenna.

        You go to where the retail density is, however you can get there. If lucky the zoning has condensed the retail and once there it is walkable.

        Anyone who thinks you can create any kind of retail density in every neighborhood is delusional, which is why Seattleites living in fairly dense areas drive past RV to grocery shop on MI which is why we have such great grocery stores and eastsiders (and Seattleites) drive to Issaquah for so much retail. My guess is the Issaquah Costco does more revenue than all retail on Queen Anne combined, although I do like the cute restaurants on Queen Anne although it is a pain to get to and the wine is overpriced, but the local customers very chic and urban looking. I wish MI had a few of those restaurants, but Seattleites don’t come to MI for the bars or restaurants. We go east or west for those to where they have some density. They don’t come to you.

      8. “ It has three grocery stores: on the south end a very large high end QFC (for QFC), and on the N. End across from each other a large high end QFC and a very high end, very large Met Market.”

        I’ve been in one. They may seem large for those chemins but I’ve been in much larger supermarkets.

        I’ve actually seen a few upscale communities support a version of Pike Place Market with multiple small independent vendors inside.

      9. “So how can 25,000 residents support three very large grocery stores? Because lots of Seattleites who live across the bridge (and actually have kids) drive across I-90 to shop”

        Or your number is too high. Capitol Hill has two QFCs, two Safeways, one Trader Joe’s, and one co-op. On top of that, A 10-minute walk from my apartment has six convenience stores.

        I wonder if that many Seattlites really drive to Mercer Island to shop, and without them two would close.

      10. Capitol Hill is 1.64 sq miles and has 32,000 residents. So if Mike is correct that CH has that many grocery stores within 1.64 sq miles my guess is folks from other parts of the city (certainly east to the lake) are driving there to shop. Do any of the grocery stores have no parking, and is the parking ever not filled. That might tell you something.

        Yes, the grocery stores on MI all have reward programs so know exactly who their customers are, where they come from, and what they buy. Probably the most cut throat business in America based on huge volumes and tiny margins.

        By the way, my wife shops at Uwajimaya, Costco, Target, Fred Meyer, and Safeway with the onsite bakery in Bellevue as well as on MI. Very picky and savvy shopper with about ten reward cards on her key chain.

      11. @ Anonymouse,

        I was merely implying that Daniel Thompson’s ideal of retail density is basically a mall (lots of parking, lots of “walkable” stores near the parking). I didn’t say Mercer Island had an indoor or outdoor mall. But in DT’s ideal vision of walkable retail density, it should be a mall.

        He also bizarrely seems to think that Trader Joes, Safeway, Met Market, Ken’s Market are somehow not grocery stores the residents of QA might walk to. I drive AND walk to them on regular basis, depending on the weather and whether I want a stroll or something within 2 minutes.

    3. Probably around 7000 residents /sq km (17500/sq mi)

      I’m just citing the minimum density for BRT/ (at-grade not tunneled) LRT.

      I guess in general too for a supermarket it’s around 20k people (maybe 10k for a smaller store) but I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If the 15-minute area can’t support a decent grocery store it probably can’t support any of those other amenities.

      > On average, it takes 20,000 people to support one grocery store, said Mark Thompson, managing director

      1. Interesting, there are many ways to house 7000 people in a square km:

        1. You could zone the entire area for row homes.
        2. You could zone part of the area for 7-story apartment buildings and zone the rest single family.
        3. You could zone for a handful of residential towers and let the rest be single family with ADU, or two-unit buildings.

        The point is there are several ways to get the critical population mass! However, without a declared defined population objective, we get nothing but varied personal opinions of what each person wants. That’s why setting a population target seems to be the first objective that a consensus of people need to agree on.

        Then the question of non-residential kicks in. Most non-residential buildings are set up as completely blank spaces with a limited amount of plumbing — and everything else is “build out”. (Most medical spaces do need more plumbing). In that situation, a 10k sq ft space can be a pharmacy, two restaurants, a tech start up office, a small dance bar, a daycare, an e-bike retailer or whatever. It can change depending on the market from one decade to the next. The important thing is that it’s accessible and somewhat visible from the street, and that the nearby spaces vary enough in size to enable different kinds of activity.

        Both need an element of “choice”. That means some vacancy rate and undeveloped parcel set aside need to be considered — and that some competition is possible (so residents can choose from more than one restaurant, for example).

      2. Al, Because of the variety of zoning options you list I support local zoning control, or in large cities like Seattle neighborhood control.

        Once we get past the myth (especially among renters) that any of the new market rate construction will be affordable in a high AMI city each local area can have a rational discussion about what they want and how zoning can determine that, although retail density depends on so many other issues. The only thing it won’t have is “affordable” housing, or anything below 80% AMI for existing housing (rental) and 100% for new construction, especially in the more desirable neighborhoods.

      3. “Once we get past the myth (especially among renters) that any of the new market rate construction will be affordable in a high AMI”

        You’re the only one saying that. New market rate housing will be at the same price as recent market rate housing of course. But it will allow some higher-income people to move to those units, which means less competition for the older units. On a citywide basis over multiple years and several new buildings, citywide rents would rise more slowly than if you didn’t build the buildings. That’s what we need. It’s not just the high price that’s the problem, it’s the rapidly-increasing prices. The idea that new market-rate units will be $1000 (“affordable”) when existing ones are $2000 is ridiculous, yet you keep arguing that strawman and saying renters and urbanists believe it.

      4. New housing is not affordable today but becomes affordable over time. As apartments age, their price per SF trends downwards. Many of today’s affordable units were built decades ago. I remember seeing a graph that showed this relationship. The caveat was that once a unit becomes old enough (think a turn of the 20th century unit), prices begin to trend back up because people find “historic” buildings appealing.
        Don’t build new multi-family housing today and it means 30 years from now we won’t have a healthy supply of aging units to fill the demand for middle/tier tier priced housing.
        We’ve got to thing long term about these issues. This does not preclude the construction of subsidized housing by government / non-profits for short to medium term impact.

  20. Alonso and Mike, I agree that our current housing supply must increase to accommodate the recent population growth, although I have my doubts about the future population growth estimates., and I think builders have their doubts too.

    We all agree that per sf in the same neighborhood new construction will cost more than older construction.

    I think one point Tacomee and I have tried to make is the new construction — at least in urban areas — often replaces older construction because there are few vacant lots, although the new development may have more units (but not necessarily more housing which is measured by number of bedrooms).

    That is why the average median price of housing in Seattle keeps going up even as new units are added: the new construction is more expensive per sf than the older housing it replaces because in a high AMI market builders build for the high AMI. So it is a double whammy that increases the average median housing price. The loss of older existing housing is a bigger problem than the price of new construction because in Seattle the high AMI can afford the new construction. That was the take away from the report WL linked to and I have raised many times: 80% AMI and above has no problems because they can afford new construction. 50-80% cannot, and the housing they can afford is being redeveloped.

    That is the rub. No matter what the zoning is builders will build for the high AMI, and will do it by replacing the oldest and cheapest existing housing.

    I don’t have a solution except publicly subsidized housing, but right now all our public funding is going to 0-30% AMI folks.

    The other options are a smaller unit (tiny), different neighborhood, roommate, or as Tacomee recommends another city which is why we are seeing migration to Spokane, which of course is making Spokane residents angry as their housing prices increase, like Californians moving to Boise (and Seattle) with higher AMI’s and a lot of money from selling their old house.

    1. Yeah, California is kind of the problem child here. Seattle built a lot more housing than San Francisco and other parts of California did in the past two decades… and because of that plenty of jobs and people migrated North. Seattle isn’t some island, people (and jobs) are free to move in… or out, depending on economic factors. As long as high income earners keep flocking to the City, rent is staying sky high.

      I’m afraid that any attempt to build Seattle into an affordable city would just bring out-of-staters flooding in negating the effort. What’s really crazy to me is many of the build! build! build! crowd aren’t even from Seattle. Doug Trumm (The Urbanist) is from Minnesota, Erica Barnett (Publicola) is from Texas, The guy running Crosscut now just showed up here last year from California…. these are all really creative, smart people, but the reason working people born here can’t afford to live in Seattle is because….. smart talented out-state-people keep moving in (often with a bags of money)

      I’m not saying anybody needs to head on out from the Emerald City… the more the merrier! But it’s awfully rich to hear transplants like Trumm and Barnett harp on housing costs.

      If you believe Seattle is a great city… you can’t complain about it being expensive. All of the good things in life cost a lot of money. There’s no affordable way to live a City like SF, NYC or Seattle and pay a buttload of rent.

      1. I have always found it interesting that induced demand is viewed as a major problem when it comes to SOVs but not when it comes to housing, yes. I wish more people thought of it that particular aspect of the problem.

      2. @Anonymouse

        > I have always found it interesting that induced demand is viewed as a major problem when it comes to SOVs but not when it comes to housing, ye

        That’s because it’s not the same thing and you are comparing two different types of demand curves. I fear people half-learn induced demand but then get confused by the statement.

        First of all, demand as ‘induced demand’ it is a confusing term just used in the transportation world, because in their world ‘demand’ is a fixed amount measured in a certain year. While in economics demand is described as the ‘demand curve’ where given X price (or time for traffic) people will desire Y amount.

        More complicated is there are multiple demand curves given enough time frame and also depends on if we are talking about demand per individual person, if you want to compare you need to compare the same type of demand curve. Most are more familiar with short term, medium term and long term supply curves in the form of ever large factories, but the same applies to demand as well.

        For the demand curve of traffic we are typically talking about how the individual will drive more and more. You build a freeway lane and with the faster traffic people will just end up driving a couple miles more every day to farther destinations.

        While for the demand curve of housing for an individual generally it isn’t really that elastic, people don’t demand ever more square footage at a certain point. (This is also why splitting up a house footprint into say 4 townhouses is worth more)

        There is also the longer time frame of how people will move from one metro area to another given more housing or job opportunities. And as you build more housing it is true, more people will likely move into them. It also applies to freeways as well as, as you build them people will move in from other metro areas towards the suburbs as was done in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles until it doesn’t scale anymore as one ends up with supercommuters.

      3. Right, I was not talking about capacity in terms of space but rather in terms of units of housing/people in the region, equivalent to the trips in the region.

        I get that they are not the same, and I do not claim to be an expert. So your explanation is welcome. However, as you noted, there is a notion of “induced demand” in that “people will move from one metro area to another given more housing or job opportunities. And as you build more housing it is true, more people will likely move into them”, as you put it. And this is not something I see people talk about that much, as I mentioned.

        The reason I think it is important to talk about it is because too often we look at housing needed to reduce the number of unhoused in terms of A = B, there are A unhoused “families” (using the term loosely) so we need B units. However, because of induced demand, that is not the case. It’s not even just people moving in from other areas; it’s also people who have roommates now who will choose to move out. So A << B', potentially (or maybe not! my intuition is that the difference is significant, though).

        So, with that in mind, assuming C units of housing built per year if some change in the status quo happens (e.g. zoning changes), if A << B, we need a lot more years (say N) to solve the problem. Which gets back to some people here point out (in a very undiplomatic way, I will very readily concede); zoning is likely not enough to solve the problem of the unhoused, and that is a problem that we do need a solution for before the N years are up.

        Hence the question of how do we solve that problem in a smaller N. My hope is that other changes, such as the social housing, will make a difference much sooner, as they are trying to more directly target the immediate problem, instead of working through the broader economic system which is more prone to the harder-to-measure effects, such as induced demand due to additional housing.

        I hope that that clarifies why I am worrying about this problem.

        Thank you again for the reply!

      4. Erica C Barnett has been a journalist in Seattle for decades at different publications, since at least the 90s maybe. She wrote for STB in the mid 2010s. I don’t know the others you mention.

      5. “I have always found it interesting that induced demand is viewed as a major problem when it comes to SOVs but not when it comes to housing”

        Housing is a basic human necessity. SOVs are people rejecting a more reasonable approach because they want private luxury and ignore its disproportionate externalities which harm others.

      6. Housing demand is surprisingly inelastic. Places like Detroit or Buffalo are not growing, despite very cheap housing prices. Places like San Fransisco and New City are doing the opposite*. Thus building more places to live will likely lead to an increase in the number of people, but mostly it will lead to cheaper housing prices, as it does in other parts of the world (where they have added a lot of units and people).

        * Both cities have shown decreases recently, but this is very recent, and not likely to be a long term trend. For several decades now these cities have seen a steady increase in population despite high rental prices. Basically the housing supply has not kept up with demand, and yet more people just want to live there.

        What’s really crazy to me is many of the build! build! build! crowd aren’t even from Seattle. Doug Trumm (The Urbanist) is from Minnesota, Erica Barnett (Publicola) is from Texas,

        You go back far enough and no one is from Seattle. The glaciers melted about 10,000 years ago, and the tribes moved in. The Denny Party didn’t get here until 1851. Habitation here is all very recent.

  21. @ Anonymouse,

    I was merely implying that Daniel Thompson’s ideal of concentrated, “walkable” retail density is basically a mall (lots of parking, lots of “walkable” stores near the parking). I didn’t say Mercer Island had an indoor or outdoor mall. But in DT’s ideal vision of walkable retail density, the collection of strip malls should be a mall. He spent a lot of words trying to articulate this, but what he wanted to say is the mall is the best thing ever and everybody should embrace it. The guy is reliving the glory days of the 1980s.

    He also bizarrely seems to think that Trader Joes, Safeway, Met Market, Ken’s Market are somehow not grocery stores that the residents of QA might walk or take public transit to. Maybe his friends in QA don’t because they are his friends and think just like him and love malls too. I drive AND walk to these stores on regular basis, depending on whether I want a stroll with the kids, fill my trunk with groceries, or whether I just want to grab something quick in 5 minutes. Same thing with walking my kids to Coe Elementary. I drive when we’re running late or if there’s an atmospheric river. But I enjoy walking them to school, even if it takes longer. Not everything is about absolute efficiency and cost-savings/coupon-clipping.

    1. I’ve never tried to walk anywhere on MI, so I have no intuition for how walkable it is. I have walked around various parts of Seattle as well as other suburbs I’ve lived in in the past, and have found it “okay” to walk in all of them, even with groceries, as long as I carry stuff in a backpack (and only as much as my backpack can hold). Since I don’t own a car, if I need more than that, I usually catch a bus, which serves me well enough, too. It’s a different lifestyle, as you said. I can see how it wouldn’t fit everyone, I am fortunate enough to be able-bodied and not mind walking in the rain or the summer heat.

      1. During the beginning of the pandemic when a lot of the regional parks were closed (we love hiking), my wife and I decided to go on some pretty long walks. We’d choose a neighborhood and walk upwards of 9 miles and discovered some really great streets, parks or interesting little pockets, grab coffee or treats along the way and otherwise discover areas that we’d otherwise never come across.
        We did do a 4 hour loop through Mercer island and did find some nice wooded parks. We also came across a lot of this with minimal sidewalks:
        3 car garage, followed by hedges, followed by 2 car garage, another 3 car garage, hedges, hedges, etc.
        It wasn’t a very stimulating walk but what we noticed was that many of the properties we came across were “inward” focused and didn’t engage the street in the same way as you’d find in older more established neighborhoods. The north part of the island was more pleasant, maybe because the neighborhoods and homes may be older.

      2. “It’s a different lifestyle, as you said. I can see how it wouldn’t fit everyone”

        People in walkable areas can own cars and drive if they want to. It’s about giving people a choice rather than forcing everyone to drive.

      3. Alonso, MI residents would like sidewalks in their residential neighborhoods but like many cities they are too expensive. The city code requires three onsite parking stalls: two covered and one uncovered. This is to stop cars parking along the street like in Seattle and because there are few sidewalks, and so folks don’t store their stuff like garbage/recycle/yard waste bins in their yards. I think Issaquah and Kirkland require three covered parking stalls in any SFH.

        MUlti-family units on MI generally require one parking stall because it is near transit so the assumption at least one of the tenants would ride transit. However few Islanders live alone so we have learned most units have two cars (or three) and the second car is parked on town center streets displacing parking for retail. So now we are looking at ways to deal with this without spending a fortune on a parking management plan.

        The north end generally has smaller minimum lot sizes (the south end is generally 15,000 sf minimums) so there are longer walks between houses in the south end and it is more like walking in a park.

        I like walking in the neighborhoods because they are safe, very vegetated with a lot of trees, and the houses are usually interesting to look at (,same reason taking a boat around the perimeter is fun if you like looking at houses and gardens, or are thinking of remodeling or building). The houses are not oriented toward the street as you note but fence height is limited along the street or front yard.

        The key words for the residential neighborhoods in the comp. Plan are “rural character”, when you are probably more use to urban housing. Other cities like Sammamish are even more rural IMO, which I think is a goal of suburbia (although Seattle has some nicely treed neighborhood — have you walked Blue Ridge?) The commercial/retail zone is where we want any kind of vibrancy, not the SFH.

    2. A 15 minute city does not mean that there should be a mall within 15 minutes walking. It implies a grocery store, a park, a school, a coffee shop, a pub, some restaurants and some minor retail shopping.

      Large retail shopping centers are a destination.

      I don’t know why people are confused about this

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