Red lines are King County Metro routes marked for temporary suspension in September 2023. (map by author using King County data.)

Two weeks ago, Metro announced the decision to temporarily suspend twenty peak-only routes as part of its service cuts. The focus on peak-hour reductions aligns with Metro’s current operational challenges, like fielding the high number of operators required for lots of peak-time service. But some riders are disappointed that their peak routes will be shut down. Is Metro right to suspend peak-only routes versus other areas that could be cut? Here, we will explore Metro’s choice by getting into route-level productivity data on the suspended routes.

To define what we are talking about, peak-only routes run only during the morning and evening rush hour, contrasting with other routes that run throughout the day. Almost all of these routes run one-way only, and many serve limited stops. The rationale for peak routes is to connect areas that are specially associated with trips at peak hours, like downtown business areas and suburban residential neighborhoods. By designing a route to serve this specific travel pattern, transit agencies can serve a large volume of trips quite efficiently.

That was the way things were before the pandemic, for the most part. In 2019, peak-only routes held the top six spots in passenger miles per platform mile. This measure, which tells us the average loading of these buses was very high, means those routes were popular and effective at transporting people long distances. As you can imagine, the commuting pattern of people needing to go to city centers in the morning and return to their homes in the evening created this immense demand that the peak routes served.

Then, of course, the pandemic changed everything. Metro axed most of the peak routes during the early days of the pandemic, inferring that stay-at-home policies would eliminate most peak commuting. Many of those routes never returned, and the ones that survived have not been the same.

Take a look at the scatter plots below, which have the same axes to enable comparison. In 2019 (fig. 1), the peak routes (blue and orange; orange refers to the peak routes chosen for suspension) were doing better and routinely outclassing all-day routes (grey) in the passenger mile measure (y-axis), and many were competitive in the ridership measure (x-axis). You could see the buses’ separate niches in the chart: the peak routes served long hauls from commuter zones, which granted them high passenger mile metrics; while the all-day routes served many shorter hops throughout the day, giving them higher rides per hour. Some peak routes were lower performers, but at least there were others that were superlatively good at what they did.

Fig. 1. Route-level productivity data from Metro’s annual system evaluation. (all charts by author.)
Fig. 2. Route-level productivity data from Metro’s 2022 System Evaluation.

The situation was harsher in 2022 (fig. 2). The charts clearly show Metro’s ridership problems since the pandemic, with all routes drifting left and down from 2019. But the peak routes were particularly hard-hit, mostly joining the lowest performers in the bottom left of the chart. Routes that had done well in passenger mile metrics were now also-rans: route 268 went from 20.0 passenger miles per bus mile to 2.5 and got slated for suspension in the process. Whether it was due to riders switching to other routes during COVID suspensions or less work commuting overall, the peak routes’ niche seemed to have mostly vanished by 2022.

While transit ridership continues to recover overall, we do not have public data to show us how peak routes have changed since then. Total Metro ridership rose 17% in the year preceding December 2022, but we do not know which routes are responsible for this increase. In comments against the route suspensions, riders speak anecdotally of crowded buses. But Metro general manager Michelle Allison referred to the suspended routes as “lower-ridership,” implying that those routes continue to lag behind.

For peak routes to again compare to all-day routes in their metrics, some factor would have to increase the productivity of peak routes in particular. Return-to-work policies could be such a factor; for example, Amazon is requiring employees to return to the office three days per week. However, these policies are contested by their employees who have made long-term plans incompatible with frequent commuting, like moving farther from the office. For the time being, the effect of return-to-work is unclear.

Generally, data from nationwide sources does affirm an enduring shift away from travel demand at peak hours, a trend that others have suggested could be a long-term boon to transit agencies. That is because peak-hour service is expensive to operate and often requires extensive “deadheading,” or the movement of empty buses, to serve one-way travel demand. Less peak-hour demand might mean a net increase in the total amount of service which transit agencies can provide, which is good for riders.

This change in travel demand is also good for the environment. The reason that the peak routes were better in passenger miles while having generally lower numbers of riders is because their average passenger had a much longer ride. In a shift away from peak-hour commuting, spurred by work-from-home, the number of miles each person needs to travel daily is lessened, and the average trip length reduced. Not surprisingly, not driving or riding tens of miles to work every day is an environmentally friendly development.

While the larger trends may be positive, the suspensions of the peak-only routes will affect people negatively. Riders will lose the routes they depend on, costing them time in the morning and evening. It is possible people will need to switch jobs or otherwise change their lifestyle significantly as a result of these changes. Such is the importance that transportation has for people. Hopefully this change sets Metro up to better serve people in the future.

99 Replies to “Understanding King County Metro’s Suspensions of Peak-Only Routes”

  1. From the article above…

    “While the larger trends may be positive, the suspensions of the peak-only routes will affect people negatively. Riders will lose the routes they depend on, costing them time in the morning and evening. It is possible people will need to switch jobs or otherwise change their lifestyle significantly as a result of these changes. Such is the importance that transportation has for people. Hopefully this change sets Metro up to better serve people in the future.”

    So people need to switch jobs or otherwise change their lifestyle to use public transportation? Good luck with that.

    1. What really will happen is the bus riders will just drive. Only very committed transit riders or those who cannot drive will change jobs because of transit.

      This personally happened to me. I moved from Capitol Hill to Shoreline recently and continued to ride the bus. But the bus is infrequent and has a poor connection at Northgate, and now it’s scheduled to be cut all together and increase my walk to a mile. So drive to work is now my choice as a car is cheaper than buying a new house. My commute also dropped from an hour and a quarter to 15 minutes.

      1. So the lesson is don’t move from Capital Hill to Shoreline. Shoreline is known for car dependency and Capitol Hill is just so damn cool there’s little reason to leave. And it has great transit service.

        Brad, we truly hope you help make Shoreline better than its strip mall image. The math I am interested in is if you got rid of your car and took the $1,000 a month that you presently spend on your car and applied that to your home or apartment would you be able to live somewhere that is walkable with good transit ?

      2. Jon,

        I look forward to hearing where all the great waterfalls to visit in Capitol Hill are. Or just all the great hiking spots for weekend trips that aren’t Mt. Si.

        Others may have other priorities; jobs in places other than Seattle core areas, for example. I’ve always managed those without a car, myself, but visits to elderly relatives and weekend trips are tricky without a car. I don’t expect you to help me with my elderly relatives but I do expect to hear all about the great hiking in Capitol Hill. Please send pictures, too :)

      3. Jon, you’ve now made two condescending remarks regarding strip malls. When I think of strip malls, I think of merchants, many who are people of color and immigrants, who might not be able to afford a more expensive location. Can I ask, what’s behind your contempt for those types of businesses?

      4. Dear Jon,

        Although I do not have to explain my life choices to you, I lived on Capitol Hill for 30 years, carless. I do not spend 1000 a month on a car. You are making a lot of assumptions about me.

        I’ll see what I can do about making Shoreline into a different place.

        As a person who moved away in my mid-50s, Capitol Hill is very cool but no longer fits my life nor my budget. I am not poor enough for subsidized housing. I have to live with others now and this is the option I have.

        Maybe hold your judgment on people you don’t know.

      5. Brad,

        Do you think Metro is getting it right with the Lynnwood Link bus route restructure?

      6. “What really will happen is the bus riders will just drive. ”

        They already are driving, as evidenced by the lack of riders. There’s only so much money available to operate service, and some things aren’t worth operating.

        Stuff like the 301 looks nice in 2019, but once you add in the hours required to return an empty bus to the other end, and the utility metric is cut in half. I’d have gladly used it when visiting a friend in Shoreline, but no reverse direction and infrequent service meant something else was always faster.

      7. Let’s see…

        Mouse… first, awesome to hear you manage core priorities without a car. Kudos! It would be wonderful if other’s used cars only to go the mountains or rural areas but it wouldn’t be true. Hiking spots ain’t the destination for all the overweight car-dependent people. Mt Si has always been my favorite, Little Si and Tamarack are obviously easy without a car as are numerous parks and trails. Camp Muir, sure rent a car, but NPS should provide transit to Paradise before they pave the rest of the mountain.

        Sam… Strip malls are not sustainable and suck the souls from the car-dependent people that use them. Hope that answers your query. Do you really think of merchants when you think of strip malls? Good on you.

        Brad… Please make Shoreline a better place, smaller cities can be awesome but it takes work! Most car owners don’t realize how much money their car costs, add it up and it may surprise you. The average is $1,000/month, more for trucks and SUVs of course. The average new car loan is ~$700/month, used cars not much less. Insurance, maintenance, fuel, depreciation. Staggering amounts of after-tax money. Too many entitled brats who purchased these over-priced cars expect massive handouts from the government. You don’t need to explain your life choices but when the car-dependent advocate for a couple hundred million dollars for a small interchange or billions for bridges and tunnels the answer is car-owners pay for it ALL. When these same entitled brats demand the vast majority of a city’s public right-of-way to be devoted to car lanes and for free car-storage the answer is hell no. Transit moves an order of magnitude more people per lane so transit needs dedicated priority always. The car-dependent who want to sit in traffic can do that all day long if they wish, but massive tickets to those who hold up transit and immediately revoke the license if their driving puts other people at risk. Common Sense.

      8. I won’t say his name so as not to get ah’ed, but is “blank” trolling? If he is, he’s a master at it. Sanctimonious. Judgmental. Condescending. Intolerant of anyone who lives differently than him. It’s so over the top, it has to be an act, right?

      9. Stuff like the 301 looks nice in 2019, but once you add in the hours required to return an empty bus to the other end, and the utility metric is cut in half. I’d have gladly used it when visiting a friend in Shoreline, but no reverse direction and infrequent service meant something else was always faster.

        The new 301 is a bidirectional, peak-only bus. It is an interesting bus. I believe it is one of the few, if not the only bus here with unique coverage (along 175th). And yet it does overlap the E. Like a lot of the buses that ultimately get removed, it needs frequency to be popular, but can’t quite justify it. Because it can’t justify it, people just take other buses. There are other buses like this. For example, the 73 would get a lot more riders if it ran every 15 minutes all-day long. But because it runs so infrequently, people walk to catch the 67, even if the 73 is closer. Or they take a couple buses if they are going from Pinehurst to the UW. Like the 301, it needs to be frequent to compete with other, much more frequent buses, even if does things those other buses don’t. In contrast, a bus like the 24 would get more riders if it ran more often, but as the only bus for a large swath of Magnolia, it survives OK running infrequently.

        I think the 301 stood a chance as a bidirectional, frequent, peak-only bus, but has no chance when it cut back on frequency. During rush hour, people tend to time their buses, but there is a limit to that. For example, let’s say you commute to the UW. You miss the 301, and know that another will be around in a few minutes, and so you let the E go by. In contrast, right now you would curse, and just catch the E, followed by the 44. Yeah, it’s slower, but beats waiting forever to catch the next 301.

        Then again, it may be similar to a lot of the buses on this list (e. g. the 15). It is a good route, but only if *lots* of people are riding the bus. An express that has relatively few stops is bound to struggle compared to a bus like the E, even if the express connects to Link, and gets there quite quickly. There just aren’t that many people along 175th, or even Aurora Village.

      10. Ross, regarding the 301 (and 304), I feel like the route really got hit twice with the truncation and the frequency reduction. If either of that didn’t happen, it would not perform as bad as it is now. From Downtown to Shoreline, the 301 used to have some time advantage over E line. I don’t think it is the case anymore with the transfer at Northgate. The 301 is not frequent, and link often ran late when it was first extended. The experience at launch was bad, and then it just got worse and worse with random trip cancellations and eventually route suspension (probably permanently. I don’t see labor shortage getting resolved before Lynnwood Link).

        Now looking back, my approach would be to “go big or go home”. Either remove 302/303 on I-5 with Northgate Link and run 301/304 more frequently or use the resources of 301/304 to increase frequency on 345/346/347/348 instead. I probably prefer the latter option.

      11. I was at 185th & Aurora a couple months ago and was going to walk the Interuban Trail but I decided to go to Northgate and take Link to Capitol Hill instead. I wasn’t looking forward to a slow trip like E+40, 348, or E to downtown. The first bus that came was the 301. I’d forgotten it was bidirectional peak hours. So I took it, and it seems like a good route now that it’s truncated in Northgate and Lynnwood Link hasn’t opened yet. The suspension is not because it’s a poor route but simply because of the driver shortage. The shared segment on Aurora is only 25 blocks (200th to 175th), and it probably gets more riders than if it ran on another street where it would be harder to get to and you wouldn’t have an alternative if you miss it.

      12. I am not sure if I would be convinced that not suspending the 301 is a good idea even without a driver shortage. It is getting only 6.7 rides per platform hour and 2.8 passenger mile per platform mile in 2022, which is significantly worse than 346 (15.6 rides per hour in peak, 5.5 pax miles per mile) and 348 (13 rides per hour in peak, 3.5 pax miles per mile) .

      13. Route 301 disappears when the Lynnwood link restructure kicks in next Summer or Fall.

      14. The suspension is not because it’s a poor route but simply because of the driver shortage.

        It is a bit of both. The routes that are being suspended have low ridership. I don’t think it is fundamentally a poor route. It just an express in a world where ridership can’t quite justify most express buses. It is more responsive to frequency than other buses because it competes with frequent buses. Run it more often, and you get a lot more riders. But you (probably) still don’t get enough to justify its existence. The 301 makes very few stops — it covers a relatively small area. It is quite possible that there just aren’t enough people there who want to connect to Link.

        Part of it is that the unique coverage area (175th) has very few people. Another is that the more densely covered area (everything north of Aurora and 175th) has competition. There are a lot of buses in the same boat. They can’t compete with more frequent routes, and yet if you ran them a lot, they (probably) couldn’t justify the frequency. There are people going from Aurora Village to Northgate/Roosevelt/UW/Capitol Hill, but not enough to justify running the bus frequently (and unless you run it frequently, it can’t compete).

        Now looking back, my approach would be to “go big or go home”. Either remove 302/303 on I-5 with Northgate Link and run 301/304 more frequently or use the resources of 301/304 to increase frequency on 345/346/347/348 instead. I probably prefer the latter option.

        I agree. The 302/303 seem harder to justify than the 301/304. But ultimately I would try and run the 345/346/347/348 more often until Lynnwood Link gets here.

      15. Mike, I agree about the utility of the 301. We’ll take it to/from Shoreline Library (most convenient of the KCLS branches for us) from Northgate since it’s just one stop plus a bit of a walk if we can make the timing work, vs the 347 which is front-door service but a bit windy and can get bogged down on 15th. Peak direction seems to be well used, reverse peak is pretty sparse but I’m guessing the alternative is just to deadhead and get no riders at all.

      16. LMAO about hiking trails and waterfalls in Shoreline. Even as far as proximity, it’s a PITA getting around the lake from Shoreline to get to the Cascades. You’d really want to be somewhere on the outskirts of the east side if hiking and outdoors was a top priority.

      17. Brandon,

        Just to be clear, my tongue-in-cheek question was about Capitol Hill, not Shoreline. The broader point was that even people like me, who have never owned a car, rely on personal vehicles for trips outside the urban area, whether for hiking purposes or visit relatives in the suburbs. That is true regardless of whether we were to live in Shoreline or Capitol Hill, and the main reason my household does own one vehicle (even though I never use it alone).

  2. Which of the proposed route suspensions would fall in the category of forcing someone to move or change jobs? I thought Metro was pretty thorough in explaining alternatives for each route.

    I would also note that the First Hill peak expresses were not in the list of former high performers. Who would have thought that major employers operating 24/7/365 would need round-the-clock transit service rather than a peak-direction-only express for the lucky latte shifters?

    1. Ah, ask Andrew Bowen, he wrote the post.

      But the question does remain…. does transit serve the public in the here and now, or is the important thing building a system for future? I’m mostly a here and now guy…. the things I hate about “future proofing” a transit system are, 1) We don’t know the future, 2) High cost, 3) The insane idea that transit is going to mold people’s lives in the future. Transit is often caught in this “New World Order” vision of changing zoning, land use, density, car ownership and spending billions dollars to make cities (starting with Seattle) into something different .

      Meanwhile, in the real world, bus service gets cut.

      Why does our mayor want a high dollar street car line when Metro is too broke to hire enough drivers? It seems to me that if you’re really for transit, real transit, transit for today, the driver shortage and lack of bus coverage would be just about the only thing to worry about until it gets fixed.

      Read the quote Andrew Bowen wrote again. Maybe I misunderstood. Andrew, do you believe people actually need to change jobs or their lifestyle to suit Metro Transit? Seems like a pretty big “ask” to me.

      1. I was expecting an analysis of why these 20 particular routes were being cut. The post did not offer that.

        To be fair, Link Light Rail service was also heavily cut — down to half-hourly — early in the pandemic. The fact of tracks on the ground does not future-proof a line if it has low ridership . The history of Seattle’s streetcars makes that plain.

        Link Light Rail is back to full schedule, thanks in part to being the highest-ridership transit line, by far, in the northwest USA.

  3. One oddity of the list is that route 162 is not included, even though it has been temporarily suspended for weeks, if not longer. I suppose the larger puzzle is why that route, which serves Kent Station before expressing downtown, even exists.

  4. From a standpoint of park and ride commuters, the suspensions are essentially consolidating service into a few core parking lots on major corridors, rather than spreading service across a bunch of different parking lots.

    Pre-pandemic, park and ride service had not choice but to be spread out because commuter parking lots filled up, and spreading service was a more cost-effective way to increase commuter parking capacity than building larger and larger parking garages.

    Post-pandemic, the parking capacity argument doesn’t apply anymore, and consolidating service allows the bus routes to be more efficient by picking up people from a larger area. Meanwhile, impacted park and ride commuters will see essentially no travel time increase because they can always just drive further to a different park and ride lot served by a different bus route and ride that instead. For example, somebody who previously caught the 216 at a small park and ride lot in Sammamish could just drive to Eastgate and ride the 554 or South Bellevue Park and Ride and ride the 550. Four years ago, these were not options because the “core” park and rides were often full; now they are.

    The catch is that while people with cars will see very little impact from the suspensions beyond an increase in gas money, those few who don’t have cars and walked to the bus serving a secondary suburban park and ride are left with the all-day bus network, which is likely slower and requiring additional connections. But, at the end of the day, the number of people impacted this way is small, and it’s ultimately much better for the greater good than the alternative to keeping the peak-hour routes running and reducing frequency of all-day service instead.

    1. Thanks for the analysis!

      However, a list of all-day routes will get service cuts, most notably route 7.

      I don’t expect any routes to get service increases in September, unless that is when Tacoma Hilltop streetcar extension opens (which is operated by Pierce Transit).

      Since COVID is still endemic (meaning everywhere), there is still more ridership to come back when COVID finally goes extinct outside of laboratories. The trends are looking good, with the post-emergency surge in the US being rather mild.

      Employers wanting their desk-job workers to report to work on-site would do well to upgrade their offices’ air filtration and circulation systems, not just to reduce COVID absences, but also to blunt future flu absences.

      1. COVID is not going to go extinct. The only human disease that’s ever gone extinct is smallpox. Smallpox was much easier because people were only contagious when showing visible symptoms, and it still took a huge global campaign to eradicate.

        I’m all with you on upgrading ventilation systems.

    2. Good point. I used to park and ride to the 810/871 a lot. Now that the Mountlake Terrace garage isn’t filling up, those busses run less frequently, and since it’s still a transfer at Northgate anyway, I no longer ride the 810/871.

  5. I’m reminded of the quote that goes something like “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” Public transit commuting patterns have changed, so it’s only logical that transit agencies make adjustments in response to those changes.

    1. so it’s only logical that transit agencies make adjustments in response to those changes.

      Exactly. It’s time to start stopping. I guess the Grand Gulch bridge will be less than $100 M, and there’s been a lot more than that spent south of GG, so, finish FWLE. Maybe there’ll be enough people who transfer there to make it worthwhile, but I doubt it. Lynnwood is almost in the bag, so for sure finish it. East Link is also almost fully built, so put the finishing touches on it, if only to see how long the Floating Bridge stands up to the train vibrations.

      And then STOP! WSLE is a pathetic excuse of a Boondoggle; one for the record books. If there’s no WSLE, there doesn’t need to be a toweringly ridiculous second pair of tracks up to Stadium. BLE might make sense if the neighborhoods weren’t so fanatically anti-disturbance, but they are, so the stations are crap throughout. So just STOP!

      Save the money; there will be no Federal contributions to anything that hasn’t already been signed off on anyway, and the region needs to tighten its belt. Spruce up the Monorail, maybe with a one-station extension to First West and a better southern terminal without the ridiculous “bridges”. Or maybe add two north end stations, one at Queen Anne and Harrison and one by the Opera House and make a dogbone at the north end. Yes, straddle beam monorails CAN and DO have switches which are “fast enough” to support pretty short headways at Westlake. Add a station at Battery and you have “Good Enough” service for Belltown and, really, Amazon Main as well.

      But whatever happens, do not let Constanting foist his HORRIBLE bastard of a tunnel on the City.

    2. Kinda feels like KCM is giving up on commuters right as commuters are about to return to work regularly, given Amazon & Msft are finally cracking the whip on RTO. Seattle’s CBD is simply running a year behind most other global cities on returning to in person work. The facts are changing again, while Metro is making decisions using last year’s data.

      1. Is it last year’s data, or this year’s numbers, though?

        Also, I assume that if the ridership numbers say by the end of June or early July show much higher need of commute only routes into Seattle, those decisions can still be revisited.

      2. “Kinda feels like KCM is giving up on commuters right as commuters are about to return to work regularly, given Amazon & Msft are finally cracking the whip on RTO. Seattle’s CBD is simply running a year behind most other global cities on returning to in person work. The facts are changing again, while Metro is making decisions using last year’s data.”

        I haven’t read about Microsoft requiring workers to return to in office work. Both Amazon and Microsoft have dedicated shuttles and Microsoft has a massive parking lot, and due to their size and wealth are outliers. Microsoft has recently terminated leases on 2 million sf of office space not on campus (and paid $1 billion for early termination).

        When it comes to Amazon they have returned most departments to three days/week but are getting some blowback, which I think will affect future hiring if they do hire in the future. That is 60% occupancy which Amazon can afford because it owns the buildings and has massive revenue although net income is way down which led to the layoffs (and since every team wants to work Tuesday — Thursday uses all that capacity for three days/week) but other businesses can’t. Even a 60% occupancy rate in the CBD (which currently is a little over 40% but many leases are yet to expire) would be devastating for downtown Seattle and the tax revenue.

        The big issue with Amazon is what will it do with its Bellevue office space that was designed to accommodate 25,000 full time employees. Obviously Amazon is not going to hire an additional 25,000 employees as once expected, and those workers will have to come from Seattle. That should help with congestion at SLU, and maybe sooth tensions over return to office work for eastside workers. Bellevue Way is a pleasant place to shop or dine after work. I wonder when that happens ST shouldn’t shift the 554 to Bellevue Way at that time and not wait until East Link opens (full or partial).

        Finally, the extent workers have returned to office work depends on the city and the business. For example, Austin has seen a higher rate returning to office work but San Francisco which like Seattle has more tech workers has not. Neither has NY. Seattle has some structural problems with the environment downtown, and Bellevue is an easy option across the lake without those issues.

        If you watch the big investors like pension funds and REIT’s they are bailing on office space. Massive amounts of loans for these properties will reset over the next few years at higher interest rates. The lag AJ refers to in return to office work really isn’t the issue: the lag is the next few years as leases roll off and vacancy rates (office space with no lease) rise, which often determines the interest rate on the underlying loan. My firm knows from personal experience Seattle landlords absolutely will not let businesses out of their lease early — at least in Seattle — because the sublease market is flooded and they will have a hard time releasing that space, certainly at the same lease rate. Even large employers like law firms I know in the CBD plan to reduce the office space by up to 60% because ironically their lawyers are more productive WFH and don’t want to commute anymore.

        I always thought it was amazing the Stanford Study pretty much predicted the impacts from WFH in 2020: depending on the city and industry 40% to 60% would return to in office work, whether a few days/week or just overall. Amazon is at 60% for one month; the question is whether it can sustain that when 40,000 workers have signed a petition demanding to return to WFH, and the commute they have grown used to not taking is so bad. These are not workers who get up in the morning and think, yes, want to get on a packed bus or shuttle to spend one or more hours each way in uncompensated time commuting to SLU and back home.

        The next few years will be interesting to see, but all those office buildings were financed based on 95% occupancy and full lease rates. Maybe a few true class A buildings can get close to that, but the other 90% can’t and the owners will default and walk because the building is in a LLC and if underwater and the owners have no personal liability they walk, and banks then ending up selling at a fire sale except these buildings can’t sit vacant for long because the cost to restart them is enormous if maintenance has been delayed. That is why the city and county buildings at CID N are not permanently closed. They are designed to be run 24 hours/day.

        If I had any advice for Harrell or the DSA I would tell them something they already know: make downtown Seattle a place suburban (Seattle and eastside) workers want to go to anyway, whether working or not. Like ten years ago. Bellevue is like that now: these workers go there to dine or shop anyway. Bellevue is also lucky because so much of its office development was still on paper when the pandemic hit, and interest rates began to rise.

        So I think Metro is doing the prudent thing. If drivers and money were unlimited then yes maintain routes with low ridership. But based on the big money I don’t think those routes will ever be filled like they were pre-pandemic, not even close because with fewer commuters more can drive. Why serve several eastside park and rides if none are full? The beauty of buses is if I am wrong Metro can add that service back in because those riders pay full fare.

        I also think it is a mistake for transit fans to forget about the worker spending two hours of uncompensated time each day commuting to an urban center hoping it somehow revitalizes downtown or transit. I thought folks on this blog favored the worker.

      3. May 21, 2023 Percent Recovered to Equivalent Week in 2019

        Office Workers = 46%
        Domestic Visitors = 91%
        Foot Traffic = 83%
        Pike Place Visitors = 72%
        Hotel Room Demand = 95% (May 14th data)
        Occupied Apartments – 112% (2023 Q2 QTD)

        I’m downtown 4-5 days on average during the weekday and visit on the weekends on average 3-4 days a month (going out to eat & drink, music, performing and visual arts, sporting events, etc). I live in Mount Baker and spend most of my non-work time in SE Seattle, the CD and to a lesser extent on Capitol Hill. It has been nice to see an upsurge in activity downtown over the last few months.
        The downside of downtown has always been the CBD’s over-reliance of office as a primary and almost exclusive singular use. I’ve been reading Jane Jacob’s “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, which was written in 1961 and highlights the fallacy of singular zoning uses.
        Concentrated CBD’s are the yin to the yang of low density single family suburbs and an outcome of outdated Euclidean zoning concepts that have stubbornly persisted in the United States. It’s been refreshing to visit different Canadian cities over the last decade that 30 years ago followed a similar build to American cities but have densified, diversified and built out medium and high capacity transit that gets used and reinforces the urban communities that are linked by it. Amazing how in some ways our planning doctrines have improved but simultaneously have stubbornly held. We’re improving and outperforming peer cities in the US, but are a few steps behind our peers to the north.

      4. As for LINK ridership, we are at 79,525 weekday / 73,278 Sat / 50,172 Sun for April. It’s great to see weekend use that exceeds pre-covid patterns. To me it shows adoption of light rail for uses beyond peak travel to work and shows how folks are using LINK for discretionary trips and building transit into everyday life.

      5. Interesting that visitors to Pike Place Market are 72% of pre-pandemic and foot traffic is 83% despite a 46% occupancy rate in downtown offices. Any reason why Pike Place Market is doing worse, or so poorly post pandemic?

        Do you know the boundaries for these statistics. Technically downtown runs all the way to lower Queen Anne, whereas the CBD is generally between Pioneer Sq. and Pike/Pine.

        The CBD is not a singular use zone. Retail is allowed in that zone, restaurants, bars, hotels, and housing too. Planners just did not realize the profit margin was much higher for commercial office buildings which is higher than housing which is higher than retail. Before WFH different business whether law or banking or accounting or courthouses or insurance wanted to be near one another so you could walk from one to another. Just like retail, the goal is density of use.

        I wouldn’t say Seattle has two zones: Commercial/office and SFH. Capitol Hill, Ballard, Queen Anne, SLU, Belltown, Madison Park, UW District, First Hill, S. Seattle, Sodo, the CID, are all mixed-use zones, (including UGA’s), and if left organically these mixed-use zones build out from the center (CBD), which is how it should be.

        What the Wall St. Journal article noted is the loss of the work commuter, which I think will get worse not better as leases roll off, has killed the CBD’s and migrated that foot traffic to the residential zones, whether Ballard or Mercer Island. Mercer Island’s retail sales tax revenue has increased significantly with WFH, not because they shop or dine in the SFH zone but because they shop and dine in the town center, which would have no retail or restaurant density if not condensed due to the SFH zones.

        Pre-pandemic all the money was in office development. Cheaper to build with much higher lease rates and everyone goes home at night. No one saw WFH. Some areas like Bellevue can pivot because the construction was never started or completed, but for Seattle some repurposing of all those office towers will be necessary, and that will be very, very expensive if it is even possible.

        For some reason folks on this blog think a city with a SFH zone has no retail or mixed use/middle housing. Visit Issaquah someday. Or Bellevue. Or Mercer Island that has a huge multi-family zone and allows two dwellings per SFH lot. Just like Seattle most folks have to get to the retail and restaurants from their home, but what they want when they get there is retail density. Some use transit and some drive, just like they get to U Village, the most vibrant retail in Seattle. I don’t think any of us plan to spend our entire lives in our neighborhood, even if it is mixed use.

      6. Metro came in with the rapid ride . Pick up times of 10 minutes require three buses and three drivers. Pick up times of 15 minutes require to two buses and two drivers,in a half hour period. Most routes cannot sustain a 10 minute pick up time after peak hours. Whoever decided to cut the 121 has to have their head examined. The 121 express bus takes 30 minutes to get into town whereas the rapid H, 131 and the 132 take 55 minutes. The only reason is ridership is probably low on the 131 and 132.

      7. Thanks, Jerome, for an on-topic comment!

        Route 121 is different than most others on the cut list, because it provides two-way peak service. What is making it not much better than the H Line is its current headway of one hour. So basically, one bus and operator are doing the route, and the typical cost analyses typically applied to long peak-direction-only commuter routes does not apply.

        For those who were parking at Burien P&R to take it downtown, driving to TIBS has probably become the real alternative. For those along the former neighborhood tails of routes 121, 122, and 123, I wish you good fortune in the route restructure wars to come.

  6. To the extent peak routes can consolidate park and rides but maintain frequency that is a good thing. That is the benefit of an area like Issaquah in which folks come from all around for the park and ride and just want to get back to the park and ride after work. Mike is correct that the large number of peak buses is because of the number of park and rides because they use to fill up. The beauty of a park and ride is the transit rider pays for the car, driver, fuel and maintenance for first/last mile access.

    As far as folks changing jobs, or even where they live, that is a long-term trend, and really has little to do with transit. The major trend driving the suspensions is WFH which was more immediate, and IMO is likely to accelerate over the long term.

    For those areas I also thing a long-term trend will be eastside workers working in eastside offices, or just workers working closer to home, primarily Amazon when its office buildings open. I think the 554 switching from downtown Seattle to Bellevue Way shows the workers want this, and eastside cities want this.

    We are currently hiring for a position at our firm. Our offices are now on MI rather than in Pioneer Square. The pool of applicants shows very few live in or near downtown Seattle. Now that we are on the eastside we get many more applications from people who live on the eastside, but also areas from Renton to Bothell to Issaquah to Seattle. We offer a free Orca card and are quite close to the MI bus stop that has very good service, but now that we have free parking that is a very attractive perk because the applicants live all over the area, many not very dense, freeway access to MI is very good, and we are flexible on hours to avoid peak congestion.

    It’s not surprising that these peak runs had the largest rider miles because they tend to live outside downtown Seattle but had to commute there five days/week and the buses were packed (with 100% fare paying riders). Now many don’t, and more don’t want to (Amazon will have a walk out coming up). More and more young people looking for jobs are going to factor in WFH in their decision, full or part time, because it makes housing much easier, and saves them 2 hours/day in uncompensated time commuting.

    Looking back at this it really seems abusive, forcing folks who don’t want to live in or near downtown Seattle, or can’t afford to, to spend two hours/day of uncompensated time commuting to an office in downtown Seattle on public transit when they don’t use public transit in their non-work lives. It certainly didn’t help when downtown began to become dangerous and lose its retail.

    This is the new normal folks were trying to figure out. Metro has tight budgets and so had to accept this new normal although ostensibly this is about the driver shortage (except the cuts mirror ridership). Consolidating runs and park and rides to serve fewer riders makes good sense.

    I think the more painful cuts will come later in 2023 as cities, the feds, and agencies begin tackling budget deficits. One irony of WFH is it reallocated tax revenue to outer cities, the same areas that are seeing a large decline in transit use. If I were Harrell, before I would commit to the costs of the CCC I would wait for Seattle’s upcoming operating budget, and future bridge repairs/replacement. For decades mayors and councils have ignored the bridge issue until something breaks, but now things are breaking, and Seattle does not have $3.5 billion in its capital funds for bridges, the same funds that fund transit. The closure of the W. Seattle Bridge showed which 90% of voters prioritize. The bridges.

    1. The Wall St. Journal has a front-page article today that businesses in “residential neighborhoods” in the larger U.S. cities are bustling while office towers and the commercial cores sit empty and are struggling. I don’t think this is a temporary situation, and folks are no longer making decisions based on Covid.

      This is true for Seattle as well; the downtown is struggling but much of that retail and tax revenue will migrate to the residential areas or areas outside the downtown core. The crown jewels for Seattle have always been its residential neighborhoods (the downtown architecture and zoning is just awful and sterile), although ironically progressives and urbanists want to ruin those too. The total tax loss Seattle will realize will be from work commuters who no longer commute to downtown but live outside Seattle, lower tax valuations on those office towers, and lost tax revenue from commercial development and office occupancy. I would guess around 20% to 25% reduced total tax revenue which will migrate to the residential areas (which won’t affect King Co.) and will have to be made up by higher property taxes on non-commercial properties and cuts to expenditures.

      As I have noted before, there are some issues with the “mixed-use” zone that is in vogue today among urban planners, or was pre-pandemic, often packaged as TOD.

      Pre-pandemic planners did not understand there are different costs and profits among commercial/office, housing and retail which meant areas like The Spring Dist. were looking like retail deserts based on permit applications, there is a limited amount of retail if you want retail density which every shopper wants and are willing to drive to, and many folks — especially those with families — don’t want to live where they work and shop. For these folks walkability means when they get there, and of course the fallacy of the 15 minute city is it based on getting there on transit or a bike (but not a car although 95% of trips are by car).

      I think we will continue to see deurbanization, at least office commuters and folks who want to live or work in downtowns, although ironically folks want to visit vibrant large cities. But that is much different than commuting to or living in a large urban center. A city is going to need a huge number of tourists post pandemic to maintain retail vibrancy and density to attract tourists, and that all begins with crime, public safety, and public cleanliness which are prerequisites for vibrant retail density because shoppers are on the street. I would have once said the last city in the world that would die is San Francisco because I thought it was the best, and richest, but here it is truly dying.

      For Metro the issue is it is much harder to serve all these residential neighborhoods or suburbs because they are less dense than the downtown core and packed commuter transit, and now frequency all day long is important with even greater coverage if unable to condense park and rides although the number of riders is much smaller at any one time, and more don’t pay a full fare.

      For ST the issue is it was designed as a commuter system to downtown Seattle to bypass congestion and handle large volumes of riders. Yes, Link has issues with first mile access, but last mile access was downtown Seattle. Link ridership in the suburban routes will be much lower, especially post pandemic, where one needs first and last mile access. Personally I think Lynnwood Link will be the bellwether, because it and the TOD along Lynnwood Link were all about Seattle white collar commuters with lower housing costs in quasi north Seattle. I think East Link and Federal Way Link have demographics — although different — that will always have lower ridership than estimated if based on Northgate Link, and the pandemic only exacerbated that.

      These suspensions are the beginning of the new normal that people thought would begin in 2022, except a lot of folks and cities and agencies wanted to hope it was not the new normal. Great for most folks and workers, much fairer, much more efficient to not have dual space for work and home, better for the environment with much less commuting, and just a better way to live because if given their choice 98% of folks would prefer to not have to ride transit (or drive to work), which is why it will increase and younger workers will make their work decisions based on where they work including home which determines where they can live, especially if they don’t have a lot of money starting out.

      The arrogance of the new urbanist planners is they thought they could force folks to work or live someplace they did not want to work or live, or that folks like riding public transit, because they didn’t understand these non-urban folks. The folks who can’t afford this arrogance are builders, their investors, and transit agencies, even ST.

      1. “I think we will continue to see deurbanization, …”

        Data from the official Census Estimates program that looks at income tax records, SSI data and school enrollments:

        Seattle added an estimated 17,749 residents between 2021 and 2022.

        All of King County added 13.751 residents between 2021 and 2022.

        Thus King County outside of Seattle lost 3,998 residents between 2021 and 2022.

        The assertion is proven wrong with the local data from the past year.

        PS. Mercer Island lost 320 residents between 2021 and 2022 according to the estimates, or over 1 percent of its population. Is Mercer Island dying? It’s population loss is greater in percentage terms than King County outside of Seattle as a whole.

        It looks to me that the suburban baby boomers are seeing their kids leave home for the big city! Why? Because their giant houses can’t be remodeled to house their own kids because Heaven forbid they allow two units on one lot? Because the suburbs are boring to them? How does Seattle grow in population and while Mercer Island lose population?

      2. Al, you are correct MI lost population even though being right next to Seattle it was estimated to have very large population gains (N. MI is really quite urban and 3 miles from downtown Seattle and was seen as the classic TOD). It has been the demise of downtown Seattle that has led to the population decline on MI because one of the main benefits of MI over the years has been the proximity to downtown Seattle. Work in an urban office, live in suburbia with better public safety, schools and neighborhoods, with a 3-mile commute.

        One irony is MI is now under the 25,000 threshold for HB 1110 and will probably appeal any housing allocations for cities between 25,000 to 75,000 (the legislation is based on populations as of 2020 but an appeal is allowed). However, HB 1110 only requires MI as a city between 25,000 and 75,000 residents to allow two dwellings per SFH lot, which it already does with ADU/DADU’s. The council is opposed to duplexes and the regulatory limits allow a city to disfavor those.

        You yourself noted the population increase (and earlier decreases) in Seattle were likely UW and other college students, who are counted where they go to school although they are residents in another state. What I have always said is not that King Co. or all of Seattle will see huge population losses like Portland or San Francisco are seeing, but that the future population growth estimates are flawed, and at best population in this region over the next 20 years will remain flat while our planning is based on another 1 million residents arriving by around 2039 (which means today we are around 250,000 short if we are going to meet that goal).

        You also confuse all of Seattle with its urban core. As I noted, the crown jewels for Seattle are its residential neighborhoods, many/most of which have around the same density as Mercer Island. Comparing West Seattle or Madison Park or Blue Ridge or Laurelhurst or Magnolia or Ballard or Northridge to downtown Seattle as an “urban” area is flawed. The article in the Wall St. Journal was referring to these Seattle residential neighborhoods as well, because that is what they are, and my guess is that is where you will see the recent mild population increase for Seattle, unless the urban crazies get their wish and destroy the residential neighborhoods too.

      3. Al S.

        I don’t think Daniel is wrong. The raw data shows population growth for Seattle…. but in reality most of that growth went to neighborhoods, which act much like small cities, post pandemic.

        In urban planning circles, “The 15 minute City” is really all the rage now and rightly so. If I’m living in Wallingford or Capitol Hill and working from home… why would I ever leave my ‘hood? Everything I want is right there in my mini-city. Not taking transit is why the 15 minute city works.

        Of course I am going to leave, maybe to the office once a week, or to the beach for the weekend (Shout out to Long Beach WA) or Bellevue…. I might even take transit….. but chances are I won’t. Maybe I drive? or take Uber? Because I don’t leave my 15 minute city much, the cost of transportation isn’t something I’m that worried about. But 1-2 Uber trips a week? It’s that much money.

        Talk in circles all you want, but the rail spine transit model is going the way of the horse and buggy. Urban planners and technology are working against it.

      4. The distribution of future growth in this region will be almost entirely dictated by policy. We can put the future growth wherever we want it. Currently it is mostly going in Seattle because there is available space to build and Seattle offers the greatest ROI for developers. Seattle is reaping the tax benefits of growth, while residential growth on the east side is largely stagnant. Seattle is also the smartest spot to put growth because it already has most of the infrastructure to support growth. Traffic volumes in Seattle over the past 20 years have barely increased at all, repeatedly defying projections. The proliferation of WFH means that Seattle will continue to absorb growth while traffic remains largely stagnant.

        If the east side does not grow, it will continue to have affordability issues. The cost of living on the east side is already as high or higher than Seattle. So if you are in the market for a single family home and can WFH, it comes down to a matter of preference. Personally I live on a SFH block in Seattle full of young families who could have afforded to live on the east side but chose to live in Seattle instead. I have asked my neighbors and they have cited the ease of downtown access via transit, walkability, and bikeability, as reasons for living here. Daniel can ask the same questions to his neighbors and he will get different answers — they prefer the extra space and the ability to drive everywhere.

        I think all-day and weekend ridership will be a big driver of 2-Line ridership on the east side. We’ll be happy we built it. There are a million reasons why people want to get between Seattle and the east side (or vice-versa) for reasons other than work, and Seattle traffic and parking just as congested as always. What’s exciting is that ridership on the 2-Line will likely be strong in both directions at all times of day, rather than having an AM peak toward Seattle and a PM peak toward Bellevue/Redmond.

      5. “ The arrogance of the new urbanist planners is they thought they could force folks to work or live someplace they did not want to work or live,…”

        The last time I checked, the real estate world was still a free market thing. The biggest deterrent to the free market is local government regulation — like zoning, height, parking and other local regulations.

        In that vein, the bigger “arrogance” is from those that make housing unaffordable for even their own children by restricting housing types to be mansions on large lots because having neighbors rent housing under 1000 sq ft brings in “undesirables”. Punishing people who have lower wage jobs by keeping them out of your neighborhood is pretty much the ultimate way to be arrogant.

        The thing is, someone who values having mansion-only neighborhoods has been able to normalize the development pattern so that they don’t get called “arrogant” and instead thinks it’s acceptable to attribute the term to those who point out the basic hypocrisy and try to better balance it.

        Every neighborhood should have a full range of housing options in my eyes. How is requiring that “arrogant”? Isn’t it much more arrogant to legislatively restrict entire segments of the working population from ever being able to afford to live in your community?

      6. “The distribution of future growth in this region will be almost entirely dictated by policy.”

        That was the fallacy of the PSRC pre-pandemic. Everyone would live in TOD and take transit to work in the urban areas. “Growth” depends on: 1. jobs; 2. length of commute which at some point is too far; and 3. housing costs. Next come schools, public safety, residential neighborhood character. Only if “policy” is consistent with what most folks want when choosing where to live will policy have any impact. You can’t make folks do what they don’t want to do, especially where to live, especially post pandemic.

        “We can put the future growth wherever we want it.”

        Not really. What zoning can do is not put it someplace by not allowing it, thereby condensing someplace else. The 6500 sq miles three county region is already zoned, which is why this region has so little density. The problem with recent upzoning bills like HB 1100 is it “puts” future growth everywhere so it can’t be controlled.

        “Currently it is mostly going in Seattle because there is available space to build and Seattle offers the greatest ROI for developers.”

        Pre-pandemic it depends on what you mean by growth. Over the last 40 years the real population growth has been on the eastside which now equals Seattle’s population and has higher housing prices. If you mean development, then that is really a function of urban areas like downtown Bellevue and Seattle because office development was very lucrative. Not anymore. At the same time, most of the multi-family housing has gone in urban areas from Bellevue to Totem Lake to Seattle to KIrkland to Redmond because those areas were vibrant and had the jobs. Probably the biggest unknow post pandemic is where future growth will settle. Right now it looks like Tacoma for this region on the west side, and SnoCo for Millennials looking for a SFH.

        “Seattle is reaping the tax benefits of growth, while residential growth on the east side is largely stagnant.”

        True and not true. Seattle benefitted wildly from tax revenue on existing office towers, commuters (B&O tax), and commercial and multi-family housing construction (sales tax, increased property tax). Of course, so did Bellevue, although that development is slowing, and just about every city during the region’s housing boom realized increased housing related tax revenue. Residential growth on the eastside mirrors residential growth in Seattle: in more urban and multi-family areas lots of condos and apartments are being built, while in the SFH zones both areas have seen new construction, and the eastside a torrent of subdivisions. Seattle’s 2017 zoning amendments have had almost no impact on density in Seattle’s SFH zones.

        “Seattle is also the smartest spot to put growth because it already has most of the infrastructure to support growth”.

        Agree, except not just Seattle but any existing urban or multi-family zone. Those are the areas to increase density because obviously folks want to live there, and there is walkable transit and retail, plus the road and transit infrastructure, the lots are large, and the development allows a mix of housing from studios to three bedroom. You don’t increase density in remote SFH zones that have no transit or retail unless you are a car salesman, and if you want to condense retail so it has density and walkability you have to restrict where it can go because there is only so much retail a population can support.

        “The proliferation of WFH means that Seattle will continue to absorb growth while traffic remains largely stagnant.”

        Not sure about this one. Might be the opposite. WFH will devastate downtown urban areas, and already is, but that is the commuter. Whether folks who WFH will want to live in an urban area in Seattle probably depends on housing prices, retail vibrancy, street vibrancy, safety, schools, public safety, etc., pretty much the usual. Right now NY and SF are losing the highest percentage of residents, although why isn’t clear but my guess is WFH, housing costs, and declining urban safety.

        However, I don’t believe the assumptions for future population growth in this region, so I don’t think the question is where to put future growth, which is the focus of the PSRC and GMPC. That growth will go wherever it wants because it can, but it will be mild growth.

      7. “Every neighborhood should have a full range of housing options in my eyes. How is requiring that “arrogant”? Isn’t it much more arrogant to legislatively restrict entire segments of the working population from ever being able to afford to live in your community?”

        Traditional zoning and most cities believe every CITY should have a full range of housing options, not every neighborhood. Multi-family housing needs larger lots and more relaxed regulatory limits like height, setbacks, and impervious surface coverage to pencil out, and really should be near walkable transit and retail. You also want flexible regulatory limits for these lots so incentives for affordable housing and other significant public amenities can be bargained for by the city. That is near the commercial zones in eastside cities.

        If retail is not restricted in where it can go you will never have retail density or vibrancy, and much retail won’t be walkable or near transit.

        The arrogance is forcing your views on areas you don’t live in.

        Meanwhile SFH zones need lower regulatory limits to preserve trees and lot coverage, and much lower house to lot area ratios, which create yards for kids and dogs, less massing, and privacy. At the same time Al is correct, SFH zones are about the consistency of homeowners because these are families, and a constant turnover of renters is seen as a safety risk, which is true. It is why many cities that allow a DADU/ADU’s require the property owner to live onsite.

        Meanwhile multi-family zones often don’t want to be next to large commercial zones or eve retail zones or buildings because of the traffic, density, transient nature of workers and customers, light and noise of commercial buildings, and scale of buildings. For example, Capitol Hill is opposed to allowing the height limits allowed in Belltown, or huge commercial towers. If a majority of residents want to change that that is their prerogative.

        The key is to find an area and style of housing you prefer and can afford and live there, and let others live where they want to live. There will always be areas or housing you or I can’t afford so don’t get hung on that, especially for others. Arrogance really means you think your preference is more moral so can be forced on others when all zoning is exclusionary and just a combination of what the citizens and neighbors want.

        Which by the way is what the GMPC does. It took highly inflated future population growth estimates from the OFM and allocated future housing targets to every CITY, and left zoning for those allocations up to the cities. Some like Shoreline and Lynnwood wanted higher targets because they need the gentrification and think housing will make them Totem Lake or Kirkland, and some wanted less like Sammamish which doesn’t want to be Totem Lake or Kirkland, or Lynnwood.

        It turned out every city except maybe Sammamish already had zoning to accommodate those inflated housing growth targets through 2044. So this argument has nothing to do with housing supply, or morality, and affordability is mostly influenced by AMI and there is nothing any of us can do about that.

      8. “Meanwhile multi-family zones often don’t want to be next to large commercial zones or eve retail zones or buildings because of the traffic, density, transient nature of workers and customers, light and noise of commercial buildings, and scale of buildings. ”

        Wow! I didn’t know zones were like people with ambitions, desires, fears and other emotions!

        All kidding aside, Seattle has increased its population in the past 12 years (2010-2022) by about 25 percent. Most of that growth has been in multi-family or townhouse units built in areas with added retail. Many new buildings have ground floor retail as part of the building structure! There’s a new Target in Ballard, a new PCC in Columbia City and the CD, a new Whole Foods on Madison, and a bunch of new businesses in many of the new apartment buildings across the City.

      9. “Traditional zoning and most cities believe every CITY should have a full range of housing options, not every neighborhood.”

        And traditional zoning is also why we have sky rocketing rents and 40,000 homeless.

        Clearly, traditions aren’t all good.

      10. Cam Solomon,

        Seattle grew by what? around 25% in the last 25 years? That’s a lot of growth. Did all the building and growth bring down the high cost of housing?

        Liberals like to live next to other Liberals…. birds of feather nest together. Most of America isn’t Liberal, so there’s not a huge selection of “blue dots” on the map for Liberals to move to. So housing prices in those “blue dots” are never coming down. How can they with the laws of supply and demand?

        Cool Liberal places I can’t afford to move to.
        Madison Wis.
        Bozeman MT.
        Portland OR
        Saratoga NY
        Any City in California

        Zoning? Doesn’t really matter. For every unit of housing built in greater Seattle, there’s somebody in California ready to outbid locals to move in.

        At some point you just have at look at Left Coast urbanism realize that it’s a failure. And I’m no hater, I believe in social justice. I want communities that actually work for everybody. Seattle works for only the well-to-do…. and now Tacoma and rest of greater Seattle get hit with Seattle’s housing woes as the gentrification spreads.

        Across the street from me is a former little rental house that was always full of African American families over the years. I knew most of the kids that lived there, watched them grow up, went to their drama productions and football games at Lincoln. White yuppies bought the house and did a big scale remodel+ addition and they’re raising their kids in house now. Things change, I’m aware of that…. but the BLM sign in the front yard is just too much for to deal with. Black Lives Matter indeed!

      11. I understand how there is a linkage between zoning and housing costs. However, I have to give Seattle credit to have the willingness to at least densify portions of the city. Other places like San Francisco and many Bay Area cities have been less encouraging about adding density and their housing prices are much higher.

        To attribute high housing costs to something “liberal” is laughable and reads like a Fox News devotee . There are plenty of “non-Liberal” places with skyrocketing housing costs, like Franklin TN for example. Plus there are plenty of “Liberal” cities like St Louis where housing is very cheap. Not everything is this media-created dualism of liberal high housing cost and conservative low housing cost cities.

      12. I agree with Al that political ideology is not the cause of housing prices (unless like a city like San Francisco’s policies make it less attractive to live there). Housing prices are higher in “liberal” cities because AMI tends to be higher in those cities, and over the last decade the creation of most of the high paying jobs has been in those cities so those cities have seen population growth in excess of housing growth (not zoning, but construction growth).

        Yes, housing supply is one factor in the determination of housing prices, and so is population growth when that growth lures out of region folks with higher salaries, or wealth from selling their house out of state (CA). But when you combine a housing shortage with a rising AMI what you get is new housing marketed to that higher AMI that more often than not replaces more affordable housing. Good old gentrification, which many folks I know think has no downside since they are not poor and profit off of gentrification. Same gentrification the cities along Lynnwood Link would occur from Lynnwood Link.

        One factor I just don’t think many on this blog want to accept is the Growth Management Planning Council (GMPC) just determined — based on an assumption from the office of financial management 1 million new residents will move to the Puget S. Region between 2018–19 and 2039 — that our EXISTING zoning will already accommodate that questionable population growth estimate. We have the zoning for 1 million more residents already.

        Some think future housing growth should go into remote residential zones, and some like the PSRC think it should go into multi-family buildings in town centers near walkable transit and retail so someone can live without a car. That is the real dispute.

        What that zoning won’t do is:

        1. Create sufficient “affordable” housing, in the 30% to 70% range depending on whether someone lives alone or not. In fact, just the opposite as affordable housing is converted to market rate housing.

        2. Incentivize builders to build that new housing based on future population growth estimates they don’t believe, at least until they see that population growth, which since 2018-19 has been flat and vacancy rates rising.

        3. Determine what kind of housing builders will build, which has to do with risk, profit, and interest rates, both their borrowing costs and what the buyer can afford with a 6.5% mortgage rate (if perfect credit). If the builder or developer has to hold the loan forever because the housing is rental you simply can’t do that with a 10% interest rate, if you can even get a loan at 10% with regional banks cutting way back on lending to preserve capital because now they must pay much higher interest rates on deposits. Tacomee is right that in this market builders will either take a break or they will go to the safest project with a guaranteed return, lowest loan rate, and most certainty it will sell when done so the 10% loan can be paid off: the single-family house, or a remodel of a SFH.

        I think some on this blog don’t want to accept this because it means their rent is not going down and there is no magic bullet like Econ. 101. The region is pretty much reaching stasis on supply and demand according to the vacancy rate with a lot of units set to come on the market. Apartment construction will slow pretty dramatically for a while, but at the same time this region’s population looks like it will be flat for several more years, maybe all 20.

        The average median housing price will continue to go up because more affordable housing will be converted to AMI market rate housing (often becasue folks buy a rental SFH but want to live in it and remodel it) but not as fast, and rents will rise based on inflation and property costs like property taxes. Ironically housing prices (SFH because few today want to buy a condo) have declined due to higher mortgage rates, which is good if you are paying cash, otherwise the amount of house a buyer can afford today has actually declined for the same price because mortgage rates have more than doubled and houses like cars are purchased based on the monthly payment the purchaser can afford.

      13. “Plus there are plenty of “Liberal” cities like St Louis where housing is very cheap.”

        What is the zoning in St. Louis, to have allowed it to have such cheap housing?

      14. “Plus there are plenty of “Liberal” cities like St Louis where housing is very cheap.”

        “What is the zoning in St. Louis, to have allowed it to have such cheap housing?”

        Two reasons:

        1. St. Louis is a dying city.

        “The population of St. Louis city, Missouri in 2021 was 293,310, 8.2% down from the 319,367 who lived there in 2010. For comparison, the US population grew 7.3% and Missouri’s population grew 2.9% during that period.”

        2. HOUSEHOLD income in St. Louis is $70,189 when individual income in Seattle is $115,000 and has been flat since 2005.,was%20%2470%2C189%20in%202021%2C%20the%20latest%20figures%20available.

      15. Anonymouse,

        St. Louis really is a wonderful city. Benton Park is nice in the city and some of the older suburb cities like Eureka are perfect “15 minute” cities all by themselves. By all means move there if you can. It’s a good place to live and raise a family.

        St. Louis has its problems, but it’s not dying. Far from it. There’s great food, history, art and all the things that make cities great. Take a vacation and see for yourself.

        Al S.,

        Sorry, St. Louis is not a liberal town. Most folks in the city, many who are Black, are Democrats and the outlying areas are mostly GOP. It’s the Midwest, and it’s much more moderate than the Left Coast (or Deep South for that matter).

        And let’s be clear about this….college educated Left Coast Liberals hate moving anywhere else… Just like Texans don’t want to leave the Lone Star State. This means all the failures in California to build housing land squarely on Oregon and Washington. By not building any housing, San Francisco sucker punched Seattle.

      16. Chicago and St Louis are similar in that the unfavored and favored neighborhood have vast differences in price; average price for the city is nearly meaningless.

        Like most cities, household size is dropping, so population is going down but often household count is increasing. Number of households is more relevant for housing/rental prices.

      17. “and it’s much more moderate than the Left Coast”

        You do realize that St. Louis is represented in Congress by a member of the Squad who won a primary against a Democratic incumbent. Doesn’t seem like a particularly moderate electorate to me.

      18. My question was very simple. The implication in what Al S. said is that zoning drives housing cost and a city like St. Louis has low housing cost. Therefore, what is the zoning which enables it to have low cost.

        Reality, of course, is that zoning is not the only factor. As others pointed out, number of housing units, number of people, number of jobs, etc. all factor in as well. But it feels really strange to me to harp on zoning as the panacea when it’s clear that it’s not that. It’s definitely a factor, an important one – but it is not the single factor leading to housing costs. If I were to try to summarize it, it is that “housing availability has not kept up with demand within the time period analyzed”. Some reasons for demand are job driven, some are societal (household size is reducing), etc.

        We’ve now changed zoning for what, a month or so? in Washington. Has anything changed? Of course not. But zoning is improved. It will take time. During that time, improvements may come; or it may be that DESPITE zoning changes, demand will still outstrip supply in the next 5 years, for example because a bunch of Arizonans may decide that the 30% water restrictions that are coming are onerous enough that they’ll start moving North; or maybe some new jobs will be created, etc.

      19. Anonnymouse, a martini in a Seattle restaurant will cost twice what the same martini would cost in a similar restaurant in St. Louis. The wholesale price of the vodka is the same, but labor, rents, and most importantly AMI is different. The reality is folks pay around the same percentage of their income for living costs in any city. Houston has an AMI 1/3 of Seattle and the cost of living including housing is 1/3. NYC has a higher AMI and higher cost of living. For those earning below AMI living in a high AMI city is usually worse, which is why they move to a lower cost city like Tacoma. The gap is much less.

        Zoning is not the issue in an area like ours when the GMPC comes out and says we not only have existing zoning that can accommodate our current population, but can accommodate another 1 million citizens (who are not coming).

        The last 10 years or so have been the ideal environment to build in this region because of rising AMI and rising population and extremely low interest rates and easy available of loans and financing. That has led to a lot of gentrification which most think is good. A lot of housing units (and commercial buildings) were built in the last 10 years. Market factors have changed that, and we will see much less actual construction, but the fact is the zoning is already there for another 1 million residents.

        People think zoning is construction. It isn’t. People on this blog moan about SFH zones, but even with SFH zones we still have the zoning capacity for another 1 million residents according to the GMPC, a very liberal agency.

        Personally, I think it is animus at what some perceive as the privilege of SFH zones, many on the eastside God forbid, and how quickly those prices rose as AMI rose. Because there is no rational land use argument that further liberalizing zoning will result in more construction, or we will need more zoning capacity over the next 20 years than we already have.

        The only argument is whether to continue with the PSRC Vision with focusing that housing in TOD and near walkable transit and retail or disperse it to the remote residential neighborhoods, which as HB 1110 acknowledges will need minimum parking requirements since there is no transit, 2 onsite stalls per unit. Then leave it up to builders to choose where to build.

        Builders understand this. The future population growth estimates are a ruse by a politically appoint OFM and DOC, and builders can’t afford to believe things that are not true about future housing needs. Builders wait until the new people are actually here before building, which is why usually growing cities like Seattle get caught flat footed. Except Seattle over the last few years isn’t growing any more, and the county population is declining.

      20. Reality, of course, is that zoning is not the only factor.

        Of course not, but it is the biggest factor. It is the biggest explanation as to why prices are so much higher in Seattle than in other cities around the world that have more liberal zoning. Cities in Japan and Germany — very big cities that have added way more people than Seattle — are more affordable. The simple reason is zoning.

        Zoning is an artificial constraint on construction. It is like oil. If OPEC disbanded tomorrow, the price of oil would plummet. Of course there are other factors. Some wells dry up, others become gushers. Unstable countries fail to produce oil, or cut off shipping supply. But the big reason oil is so expensive is OPEC.

        The same is true with housing. We are nowhere near a natural market. We can see that in many ways. For example, look at the houses in Seattle that are being built from scratch with one ADU and one DADU. This is really a bizarre form of new construction. It is essentially a triplex. Each unit is a different size. The ADU is often attached to the DADU via a small hallway, with a single door. This happens all over the city, with various lot sizes. They don’t build duplexes, or quads, but this bizarre form of triplex. Clearly this is a very expensive way to build housing, and yet it is extremely common.

        Why? Because it is a many units as you can add, according to the regulations. It would be far simpler to just add a very big house. But the market for *units* is still so high, that they build the far more expensive triplex. It would be much cheaper per unit to build townhouses, or a small apartment, but the regulation won’t allow it. Thus they build the one form — as expensive as it is — that allows for as many units as possible. This is a classic case of the market following the regulations. This is not a natural market.

        Until we get to the point where we have a natural market, things like the cost of labor or the cost of lumber are not the issue. Again, these bizarre triplexes use *more* labor and *more* lumber than a simple triplex or house. It would be like the regulations saying you can add a second unit, but only if it has a brick facade. A brick facade pushes up the cost, and adds nothing meaningful in value, and yet you would see a city full of new units with brick facades. Why? Zoning.

        (Note: I’m throwing all regulations under the term “zoning”. Technically, regulations like design review are different, bus so similar as to be included.)

      21. Ross, you keep mentioning Japan. I agree that zoning helps in Japan, as you point out, but it is also true (as I have shown studies in past comments) that Japan has been losing population, including in the very large cities like Tokyo. So the story is more muddied than you tend to suggest (I do not mean to imply any ill intent; only that you focus on some aspects of the problem to the detriment of others, and I do the same with aspects I think are relevant).

        I cannot speak for Germany.

        However, we talk about “zoning” as if it is something handed down by some anonymous deity. It’s not. It’s an artifact of culture, of society. It can be changed (and should be changed, and was changed) through voting, and politics. Washington itself is the prime example of it.

        So to me the focus on “zoning” as the cause is mismatched because zoning is a reflection of societal trends. These were the trends in the 1950s; they were partly wrong, and partly stupid, and, yes, partly racist. That’s who society was in the 1950s. Maybe we’re better now. But they will change if we are better now, and if we are right now. So to me that’s where the focus needs to be. Essentially, not on zoning, but on education, and the value of this blog (and the discussions we have on it) is the educational aspect. And this is why I try to tease apart effects like population change, household size change, and zoning/regulations; because I think that it’s important to understand (and be realistic) about the effects of the changes.

        I continue to remain skeptical that the current zoning changes will “fix” our unhoused problem, and I still do not believe that zoning alone would fix it even if the changes were more drastic. Hence where I just come back to looking for other solutions that can put people in houses now, not in some hypothetical future when enough housing stock has turned over.

      22. Anonymouse, we have discussed Tokyo housing prices on this blog before, along with Montreal, Houston, Dallas, you name it, and every time I have pointed out the difference in housing prices between these cities and Seattle is directly correlated to the difference in AMI. Seattle has one of the highest AMI’s in the world, not unlike cities like San Francisco and San Jose, and housing costs reflect that, as does the rest of the cost of living. The ratio of income spent on housing is either the same or even lower in Seattle because of the high AMI.

        Folks simply will not accept that ACCORDING TO THE GMPC this region is already zoned for one million additional residents, who are not coming. Increasing the zoning even more will do nothing to increase CONSTRUCTION, which will decline going forward due to market conditions and the fact builders and investors believe the housing market is going to be saturated when current construction comes on the market. If those additional 1 million residents show up they will start building again.

        Now, will any of that new market rate housing be “affordable”? Of course not, when Seattle has an AMI of $115,000 and construction costs that are some of the highest in the nation.

        All zoning by definition is exclusionary and excludes something, whether it is certain uses, or different regulatory limits. Otherwise why have zoning.
        Some like Mike like middle housing, which of course needs to exclude commercial/office uses in the same zone, and have regulatory limits that don’t allow greater housing than middle housing like a UGA. Ross likes brownstones and tends to favor use and regulatory limits that would create — and limit — the zone to those, or townhouses. Cam believes there should be no zoning at all, which is intellectually honest but has failed every place that has been tried, especially Houston. Al like duplexes and doesn’t understand folks in the SFH zone who are ok with a main house and DADU being opposed to duplexes, which really has to do with the rental nature of duplexes, which is why most eastside cities make the owner of the property live in the main house or DADU which makes them very interested in the renter since they are living right next to them. I like my SFH zone so support those use and regulatory limit restrictions that limit the zone to SFH plus DADU.

        No one preference is more moral than the other because none creates housing for the poor.

        Either way no matter what, any of these styles of housing if new will not be affordable, and the more expensive the neighborhood the less affordable they will be. They are the least affordable if on small SFH lots in expensive neighborhoods with strict regulatory limits. For example, how do you build even a duplex let along a four plex on MI if HB 1110 allows the city to require two onsite parking stalls per unit.

        You can’t, which is why cities will use parking and their regulatory limits to limit HB 1110 to what they want (unless like MI you already allow two units per lot). As Cam noted, HB 1110 will depend on whether the city wants those reforms are not, which was the entire point of Mullet’s amendments. Folks in the SFH zones don ‘t care what folks who don’t live there think. At all, and they have all the standing.

      23. I think this makes sense to post here.

        Come to find out, political views make huge difference where people move to. Right now Idaho and Tennessee are getting a big influx of GOP types moving to “God’s Country”. Places like Seattle and Austin attract Liberal folks. All of this drives up real estate prices.

        So Seattle is hemmed in by water, with less land than Midwest cities. It’s a political Mecca for Lefties and the Tech industry loves it. There’s no way to “re-zone” housing prices lower… the supply is way below the demand and I don’t see this changing in the next 10 years.

      24. Tacomee, I am really worried about the balkanization of the states. You are correct: many are moving from the NE and CA to the south, and in the past the migration was the opposite. But the problem in this country, due to I think media and social media which amplifies the minority, and the binary primary system that has made political choices so extreme, is the middle is being lost. The conservative D and the normal R are marginalized in every state, mostly due the primary system. Lincoln couldn’t get elected in Seattle, and Eisenhower couldn’t get elected in FL.

        CA and WA need more normal R’s and the red states need more conservative D’s.

        Recently I posted an interesting insight from a political I blog I subscribe to in order to follow the upzoning bills, and the next Governer’s race will be interesting. State Sen. Mullet from Issaquah has entered the race. 10 years ago that would have been a moderate R from Issaquah entering the race. Now it has to be a D because Seattle and King Co. D’s have gone so far left, and state R’s have totally turned off suburban women who determine every election.

        The beauty is ideally the R’s once again nominate someone who is so extreme they don’t finish in the top two. This will leave Ferguson, Franz, and Mullet, and the winner will depend on eastern WA and Pierce and SnoCo. Mullet would kill Ferguson in that race.

        BTW Mullet was the one who “tailored” HB 1110 once it reached the Senate to limit the effects for the suburbs (Senn from MI had it amended to limit the housing units per lot for cities under 75,000). If Harrell can trounce Gonzales in Seattle of all places based on crime, SFH zoning, and homeless tents in parks and on streets, and a hatred of the police, how will Mullet do in the rest of King Co. let alone the rest of the state. Pretty good I think. Just give the general public the opportunity to vote for the moderate (which Biden claimed he would be).

        I have already contributed to Mullet’s campaign, and the eastside mayors are already endorsing him. Anyone who follows politics or infrastructure in this state knows, the suburbs run the show, especially now that Seattle’s cash cow, the CBD, is down 60%.

        My advice to Mullet would be to immediately change the leadership in the Dept. of Commerce and Office of Financial Management that have been corrupted by Inslee’s politilcal appointments and give us honest future population growth targets, so the PSRC HAS to revisit its 2050 Vision statement that it KNEW was false the day it was signed post pandemic.

        Because otherwise we will end with up with Pres. DeSantis, and that guy is a hard piping conservative that makes McCarthy look like a CA republican with perfect hair and suits.

      25. [ah] And you believe tax receipts from residential homes are keeping citiy centers financially solvent? That businesses want to locate along stroads? [ah]

      26. So, Washington State elects a closeted Republican as governor, and that somehow prevents the country as a whole from electing the mafia capo to the Presidency? Who knew we were so powerful?

        And, just for clarity, Biden has been very “moderate”. That’s why he’s so low in the polls. Gingrich, the Tea Party and Trump have made politics into a team sport where one’s support arises from hurting and punishing the opposition, not just favoring one’s own team members.

        The cruelty is a “feature”, not a “bug”, for Republicans these days.

      27. “And you believe tax receipts from residential homes are keeping citiy centers financially solvent? That businesses want to locate along stroads?”

        Just for the record Jon I said the opposite.

        Because of their enormous value — tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars — office buildings in commercial business districts subsidize other properties in the city. Let me explain how the property levy works because I am not sure you understand.

        Many folks think the amount of property tax a city collects is:

        Total value of properties X property tax rate = total property taxes.

        In fact, the property levy is fixed from year to year, except for a 1% increase unless citizens vote to increase the levy. So this is the correct formula:

        Total property taxes (property levy) = x (total value of properties) X y (levy rate).

        The levy rate and total value of properties are variables to equal the total property levy. If property values go up the levy rate goes down, and vice versa, to equal the property levy.

        Within a city how to allocate the property levy depends on property valuation. So if office buildings have very large valuations, they pay a higher proportion of the property tax which reduces the property tax for other (SFH and multi-family) properties within the city. This is luxury for cities like Seattle and Bellevue that smaller cities like Mercer Island don’t enjoy. On MI it is the SFH that mostly pay the property levy.

        So, what I said is if property values for office buildings decline due to WFH they will pay less in property taxes so other properties within the city have to pay more to equal the property levy, which is fixed. If you rent an apartment that probably means your rent will rise to offset lower property taxes from office buildings because their values reset lower.

        Whether businesses want to locate along “stroads” — a terribly overused and misapplied term that has nothing to do with a strip mall — depends on the nature of the business, cost of the lease, and desired customer. Car oriented businesses tend to like stroads (e.g. Aurora).

        But what I have also said many times is I think retail zoning has been too generous because retail density is critical. You have to condense retail to get retail density, and ironically and by accident that has mostly been done by prohibiting retail in the SFH zones. Folks don’t mind driving to retail — look at U Village or Bellevue Mall — as long as there is parking, or transit, and when they get there the retail is dense and vibrant. Very few expect to walk outside their door and have vibrant retail density within walking distance. Or want that.

        At the same time the businesses along stroads are mostly industrial and not true retail. You wouldn’t expect to see a windshield repair shop on Bellevue Way or in Bellevue Square.

        Finally, let’s address your deleted comment about “suburbs”. Suburb has two definitions:

        “of or characteristic of a suburb” which technically means outside an urban area, or “an outlying district of a city, especially a residential one”. Not surprisingly, suburbs began closest to the urban center and worked out.

        “contemptibly dull and ordinary”.

        What is important to understand, especially for Seattle which is probably the only “urban” area in the three-county region, is the actual urban area is very, very small. West Seattle, Ballard, Laurelhurst, Madison Park, Capitol Hill, First Hill, the RV, the Central District, UW, Magnolia, Blue Ridge, Windermere, Northgate, and basically everything in the Pierce and SnoCo area, are all suburbs because they are primarily residential, except long ago they were incorporated into the city of Seattle.

        I think it is fair — especially for young and single people — to think suburbs are “contemptibly dull and ordinary” because that is their purpose. Older folks (past 30), those with families, and women like dull and ordinary if it is safe and has good schools. That is why the property values are so high. When I was young I lived on Capitol Hill, SLU, UW, Queen Anne, but then you get married and want to start a family and want dull because the city is only a short drive away.

        How popular the suburbs are has a lot to do with how popular the “urban” part of the city is, including safety, cost of living, schools, retail vibrancy, parks and green spaces, etc. The mistake you make and many make is equating “suburbs” with SFH only zones, when in fact there is more retail on the eastside (probably just in Issaquah) than in all of downtown urban Seattle, and really all of Seattle because there is so much wealth on the eastside, in part because the folks are older. Traditional zoning simply segregates retail and SFH in order to condense the retail so there is retail density and walkability, and because the traffic, noise, light and so on are incompatible with the SFH zone, as are industrial and commercial uses.

        When you denigrate Shoreline you should understand Shoreline has about the same property values as Capitol Hill. For example, the average price for a home in Shoreline is $799,000 ($461/sf) while on Capitol Hill the average price is $609,000 ($655/sf) Of course, on the eastside the price per sf is higher than both.

        How can that be Jon the urbanist might wonder. It is because as folks age and marry they want a suburban home, dull neighborhood, and have two incomes to put toward that home when before they often lived alone.

        If you like Capitol Hill I think that is great. I am too old for Capitol Hill these days, even with the kids off to college. My wife and I still dine and shop as much as ever, especially my wife, and sometimes we go to Seattle to dine, but we don’t feel safe walking around which is a shame because what is an urban area or retail density without walkability. Instead we tend to choose restaurants with parking garages or valet or take Uber if the restaurant is worth it.

      28. “Because of their enormous value — tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars — office buildings in commercial business districts subsidize other properties in the city. ”

        Daniel, I would attribute any tax advantages to density rather than building function. An office park with one story buildings and a max of 25 percent lot coverage is likely not a big financial boon to a city. In contrast, a 40-story condo tower with luxury penthouses is also very much a boon to a city.

        Just to be clear, density isn’t the only factor. I’m just saying that in general terms, density is better for a tax base than a certain use is.

        The likely major exception to this is retail that has a broader market than just serving the local residents.

      29. “Daniel, I would attribute any tax advantages to density rather than building function. An office park with one story buildings and a max of 25 percent lot coverage is likely not a big financial boon to a city. In contrast, a 40-story condo tower with luxury penthouses is also very much a boon to a city.”

        It is not so much density Al but the value of the property. For example, Paul Allen’s estate on MI sold recently for $64 million. It is not dense at all, just the opposite, but is valuable and so property taxes on that property help offset taxes on other MI properties.

        Business districts like in Seattle or Bellevue do tend to be dense because the regulatory limits — height and no setbacks — encourage that. Most office parks have the same lot coverage or density except not the height because of the location or because the property owner and tenants can’t afford a 50-story building that probably does not mee their business needs.
        But the same is true for malls like Bellevue Mall which is two stories or U Village, both very valuable properties although not very tall with large parking structures. At the same time, you could have a lot of density in a low value area or with old or non-valuable buildings and they pay little property tax. A good example is the very tall and dense but vacant city and county buildings near CID N. Very dense but with very little value, at this point maybe no value because the cost to tear them down equals the value of the land.

        Office towers pre-pandemic were the most valuable use even if housing in the same zone was allowed and had the same regulatory limits because the leases are much higher and operating costs generally lower because the tenants go home at night. That has changed with WFH. Even very fancy residential condo towers like Lincoln Square don ‘t have the same value of say the Amazon towers, at least pre-pandemic. Post pandemic most commercial properties, and multi-family buildings, are resetting in value but no one knows what the final value will be in five years time, which is why their value is assessed each year.

        It is true SFH don’t have the same density as a commercial zone, but in some areas like MI each SFH has a high property value (depending on the house), compared to say south Seattle. Waterfront homes on some pretty large and undense lots can go for more than $10 million.

        Why properties are valuable is a mix of many factors. Few would have predicted pre-pandemic the fall in office building values, and the plans for The Spring Dist. and Wilburton showed that because they were office heavy. The future is unknown. The loss of property values in the CBD’s are going to be difficult issues for some cities and other property owners who will have to pay more in property taxes to equal the property levy. It won’t affect me much because MI SFH owners never really got a benefit from a CBD toward property taxes. SFH owners pay most of the property tax levy.

      30. This is veering off-topic. Zoning, housing, and legislature issues belong in an open thread. Sorry for not noticing this sooner.

  7. I don’t see the decision is made with considering Amazon’s RTO mandate. After RTO, the buses are getting very full , comparing to two months ago. Any data to show the impact based on last months data?
    With RTO and bus suspension, the commute to DT will be much worse.
    (BTW, I thought King County government urged Amazon RTO to revive DT. But seems King county is not ready for RTO yet)

      1. The peak expresses generally move quickly. There are HOV lanes on all King County freeways; all that’s needed is to get the Leg to up them to 3+ during peak hours — and enforce them — and the buses should run freely most places.

        The WSDOT director who sits on the ST Board ex officio might have something to say to the Leg about that.

      2. Yeah, changing HOV-2 to HOV-3 would probably improve transit commuter time more than any of the extremely expensive projects we are planning. It is really crazy that we are planning on building trains to Tacoma and Everett, when all they need to do is change the signs (and of course, enforce the law — although if 520 is any guide, there are relatively few scofflaws).

      3. Are the HOV lanes congested today? They aren’t on I-90 which is two persons per HOV. The HOV lanes on 520 are not congested because 520 is generally not congested because it is tolled and I-90 is not. The issue with I-5 (other than its terrible design which if corrected could yield an additional 20-25% capacity without adding lanes) is the HOV is one way, depending on time of day.

        It is hard enough to get two people to ride together, at least peak work commuting, which is the only time there is traffic congestion. Go to three and you get more SOV’s, and those SOV’s will use the HOV lane because unlike the HOT lanes on 405 HOV lanes don’t generate revenue to allow cameral enforcement.

        Link is already built to Northgate and soon Lynnwood, and in a few years to Federal Way, so increasing HOV to 3+ on I-5 between these areas to benefit transit makes little sense. The transit will exist (Link) and it will have no traffic congestion, except in S. Seattle.

        The solution on 405 is two-fold: north of Bellevue more lanes and HOT lanes which vary between 0, 2 and 3+ depending on congestion and time of day; south of Bellevue more lanes. With the housing growth and sprawl south on 167 405 simply does not have the lanes for that amount of traffic. Imagine if I-5 narrowed to two lanes in spots. The HOV lane on this part of 405 is abused, in part because it is very hard to enforce. But once Stride is up and running transit riders won’t have to worry about congestion on this part of 405.

        According to the WSDOT rep. who spoke to the MI council a few years back (pre-pandemic) he claimed the work WSDOT will do on 405 both north and especially south will alleviate even peak congestion (at a cost of nearly $10 billion), although I will believe it when I see it. But definitely more lanes are needed on 405.

        “It is really crazy that we are planning on building trains to Tacoma and Everett, when all they need to do is change the signs (and of course, enforce the law — although if 520 is any guide, there are relatively few scofflaws).”

        While I agree with this comment, the fact is Link to Lynnwood and Federal Way is a done deal. Traffic congestion from Lynnwood to Everett really has to do with lane narrowing due to the bridge which causes a bottleneck and not through traffic to Mt. Vernon, and increasing HOV lanes to 3+ from Federal Way to Tacoma is not worth it.

        The reality is Everett is never going to allow Link to terminate in Lynnwood and Tacoma will never allow Link to terminate in Federal Way. Each subarea is just a few billion short of completing Link to Tacoma and Everett. Then transit riders won’t have to worry about congestion.

        The issue this raises, at least on I-90 that was an approved configuration by the FHWA, is to convert the HOV lane to a general-purpose lane when East Link opens and buses no longer use it (except maybe the 630 and a few other stray buses). It makes little sense to dedicate an entire lane of an interstate to HOV’s, whether 2+ or 3+. My guess is this is what will happen, although whether it gets momentum will depend on congestion across the bridge.

      4. 520 westbound has returned to the daily congestion it had before the pandemic. The HOV lane itself is usually fine, but when it ends, buses have to sit in traffic the rest of the way across the bridge – plus, either I-5 or the Montlake exit ramp. During peak commuting hours, I have biked across that bridge many times, and under current conditions, neither cars or buses are able to get from Evergreen Point to Montlake at 5:30 on a weekday afternoon faster than a bike.

        When the 520 construction eventually finishes, the bus pathway between Kirkland/Redmond and UW Link Station should be pretty free flowing. Of course, there will still be a little bit of traffic congestion on Montlake Blvd. itself, but that section is short, so it will be quick.

      5. Speaking of congestion being back, I would like to see a study of who are all the people using southbound 405? Why is it always busy? Why does rush hour sometimes start at 1 or 2 PM? Who makes up the biggest chunk of southbound 405 users? Where are most coming from? I know from various places, but I want to see a breakdown of who is using it. It’s bizarre that it’s always so busy.

      6. Daniel, YES, on I-5 south of Federal Way the HOV lanes are almost always running the same ET to Tacoma Dome as the GP lanes. And that’s even with those two stretches of physical separation [“No Lane Changes for Next Half Mile”] for bridge piers.

        The State has spent, what, two or three billion dollars adding HOV lanes between Tacoma Mall and the King-Pierce County line — and, yes, vastly improving the interchange with SR 16 — in the last decade. How about we get some genuine value for buses and those folks who DO bother to travel as a real “carpool” [shades of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter].

        The same thing is true in the HOV lanes north of Northgate. I don’t know what the percentage of scofflaws is — there may actually be 1/3 of traffic which has two or more riders — but the HOV is JUST. AS. SLOW as the GP lanes. It’s gruesome.

        Now, of course, in two years Link will whiz serenely by all the traffic jams, and that’s a very good thing, so HOV 3+ probably won’t be needed there. There won’t be very many buses on the freeway at all.

        Remember, the hoi polloi do tend to travel together.

      7. @Sam

        They are converting those hov lanes (from bellevue to renton) to express lanes pretty soon

        @Tom Terrific
        > Daniel, YES, on I-5 south of Federal Way the HOV lanes are almost always running the same ET to Tacoma Dome as the GP lanes. And that’s even with those two stretches of physical separation [“No Lane Changes for Next Half Mile”] for bridge piers.

        Basically as Ross/Daniel noted need to increase the HOV to 3+ passengers since there are too many cars, or convert it to an express lane with discounts for more than one rider.

      8. WL, I did not suggest increasing the HOV lanes from Federal Way to Tacoma to 3+. I think that is a bad idea and unnecessary because I don’t see the congestion in this HOV lane for such a move, and there are so few 3+ HOV (which would be like limiting the HOV lane to buses that are 3/4 full) SOV and HOV 2+ will use the HOV lane anyway. Basically you discourage folks from trying to pair up to use the HOV lane.

        FW Link will open in a few years, and then Tacoma Link, and both are supposed to alleviate a lot of congestion on I-5. I highly doubt there is the political motivation to go to 3+ for this stretch of I-5. Personally, I like the idea of HOT lanes but that raises a lot of equity concerns for an area of the region that often does not have the wealth of other areas. Letting wealthy commuters to and from Seattle have access to HOT lanes while the actual working folks in this region — many of whom must drive for work — could not afford those tolls would be a non-starter for Pierce Co. and S. King Co. Great for me, bad for them.

        Even on MI when the FHWA said it would allow HOT lanes on I-90 instead of HOV lanes which would have greatly benefitted MI (pre-pandemic when I-90 was congested) because it would have discouraged drivers from using I-90 to avoid tolls on 520, and MI residents would have paid the lowest tolls since we have the shortest distance between Seattle and Bellevue, and would have allowed SOV access from Island Crest Way, Islanders were adamantly opposed to HOT lanes or any tolls, although I supported the idea since I could afford the HOT lanes (and even write it off).

        I somehow doubt S. King Co.’s residents and Pierce Co. residents who actually use tools and their hands to make a living would be keen on HOT lanes. North 405 yes; I-5 from S. King to Tacoma no.

        But like I said the chances the HOV lanes on this stretch of I-5 with so many work trucks goes to 3+ is extremely low, because who does it benefit? Seattle.

      9. WL, wow. My original reply was where the HOV 3+ topic was introduced for this thread. And then you “school” me about Ross and Daniel advocating for it as if it I’ve never heard of it.

        So, thanks a bunch, Professor, especially since Daniel is actually arguing against it as “not needed”.

    1. I’m back in the office in downtown Seattle a couple of days per week now and take the bus from the Eastside most of the time. I agree that the buses are significantly fuller than earlier this year and massively different from last year at this time. I’ve been on multiple trips recently that had people standing the entire length of the aisle.

      I fear that Metro is pulling the plug on the commuter services at the same time riders are really starting to return.

      1. Well, is Metro cutting service because of a lack of riders? or lack of drivers?

        I think it’s drivers and suits trying to put a positive spin on service cutbacks.

      2. Metro is doing the opposite of what it did in September 2021, when it restored most of the suspended routes thinking people were going to return to the office but then two more covid waves hit. But this time it doesn’t have a choice because it doesn’t have enough drivers. It’s either suspend these routes or suspend other runs.

        We may end up in a near future where buses are crowded and there’s nothing Metro can do about it. At least, not without significantly raising driver pay, which would require a countwide tax increase, which may or may not pass.

      3. Per the press releases, it is a shortage of drivers.

        I just think that the situation on the ground has changed pretty significantly even since Metro decided which routes to suspend.

      4. Case in point. I’m on the 216 right now. Every seat is full and there are 15-20 people standing.

        The 216 has a long route through Sammamish to Redmond, but most riders depart by the Issaquah Highlands P&R. The 218 follows a similar freeway route, but terminates at Issaquah Highlands.

        Hopefully the service hours freed up by the suspension of the much longer 216 allows 218 runs to be added. The 554 is winding and slow and not a realistic option for regular use to downtown Seattle.

    2. Most of these routes don’t really serve Amazon that well.

      If there aren’t workers willing to drive, I’m not sure what Metro is supposed to do to prepare for return of office work? It’s impacting everything from school districts (which don’t have enough bus drivers) to freight companies.

      1. Metro can’t turn on a dime. It takes at least a few months to decide to change, adjust the shifts, train drivers, and put them in place. Amazon just started its new policy and we don’t know whether it will last. The same with Microsoft. In 2021 Metro restored the suspended peak routes expecting workers to go back but then two more waves of the plague occurred. So Metro has to wait for something to be sustained a while to know it will last. And this isn’t Metro’s choice not to run the routes: it’s the driver shortage, and if it didn’t suspend these runs it would have to suspend others.

  8. Metro’s data is pretty clear that we don’t really have a peak period for bus use anymore. Instead, bus ridership is spread across the day. In fact there are quite a few routes (for example, most routes that serve the U District) that have higher passenger metrics weekday off-peak compared to weekday peak.

    So with that in mind, I think Metro trimming the least well performing peak routes makes sense. But I’m also interested in seeing a similar graph that highlights the performance of all day routes that are being reduced, such as the 20 and 73.


    “For the first time since the Great Recession 15 years ago, King Country homeowners will see lower property values on assessor notices this summer — another sign of the dramatic slowdown that has hit the local housing market over the past year.”

    “In Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, values declined 8% on average this year, compared with an increase of nearly 14% last year. In Sammamish, values are down 22% on average, after shooting up 50% last year. This year’s property values help determine next year’s tax bills.”

    “From 2020 to 2022, the Seattle-area housing market saw extreme competition as a result of a confluence of factors — remote workers looking for more space, millennials starting families, low interest rates and a slim supply of homes for sale. Interest rates began climbing in spring 2022, pushing monthly payments further out of reach for home shoppers. Red-hot markets like Seattle cooled quickly.”

    “The commercial real estate market is more of a mixed bag. Industrial lands and storage properties are on the upswing, while some office building values are declining 15% to 20%, Wilson said.”

    “To calculate tax bills, county assessors essentially determine how much property tax revenue is owed to various local governments, then determine how much to charge each property owner, based on the value of the property, to reach that total amount. The total amount the county generates can only increase by about 1% each year, except for voter-approved taxes such as school levies. ”

    The one factor that has not changed when it comes to residential housing is supply over the last year. It is the other factors that have caused a decline in valuations. Very low interest rates, Millennials aging and wanting a SFH with more room were the main factors driving up housing values, while rising mortgage rates and stock declines for some major tech companies (that often pay for the down payment) are the main reason housing prices/values are declining.

    The one factor that has affected commercial properties is the belief WFH is not a fad, and this is the new normal.

    One thing I have posted about before and the last quoted paragraph above addresses is lower property values don’t reduce a city’s property levy it is allowed to collect from all property owners, plus a 1% increase per year without a vote of the residents. So lower property values don’t reduce total property taxes.

    However, the allocation of the property taxes a city is allowed to collect is based on individual property valuations. So if commercial office properties — that due to their value are a very large percentage of the property levy and pre-pandemic helped lower other properties’ taxes — decline 20% that decline has to be made up by other properties.

    So some folks will see their SFH decline in value but their property tax increase to make up for lower property taxes on commercial office properties, and folks will see their rents rise because property taxes increased on those buildings for the same reason.

    1. I mentioned that our property tax this year went up 18% or so. I am curious to see what it does next time around. As you mentioned, property tax can increase even despite valuation decreases, so I don’t expect it to go down (much, if at all), but it will be very jarring if it doesn’t just the same.

      1. Three factors can adjust your property taxes year over year:

        1. Locally approved levies increase property taxes.

        2. Other properties within your city increased in value which tends to lower your taxes because they pay a higher proportion of the property tax (which can be why a CBD district is so wonderful for taxpayers). For example, in 2020 and 2021 my property value on MI went up but not my taxes because property values for waterfront homes skyrocketed so they paid a higher proportion of the levy.

        3. Your property values went up but others went down or stayed the same. They you must pay a higher percentage of your city’s property levy (and King Co.’s). That is the problem with the decline in commercial office property values. They will pay less so someone else has to pay more.

      2. The other interesting question is how will renters take increasing rents due to property taxes in a year when property values decrease. I expect that it will go poorly.

  10. Commenters have offered anecdote for why route 216 should be spared, or trips should be added to 218.

    Are there other routes on the September suspension list for which high use of capacity has been observed recently?

  11. @AndyL:
    Fellow 216 rider here. Can confirm that the afternoon run leaving Pioneer Square has regularly been standing room only Tuesdays through Thursdays these past few weeks. Occasionally folks have been left behind because of the crushload. Morning run inbound’s been crowded as well. Was recently switched from a standard to an articulated bus.

    The narrative from Metro Transit about the 216 being “low ridership” is simply not accurate. Moreover, they want to cut this route while keeping the shorter variants, 212 and 218. Means folks in Bear Creek, Sammamish and the stop in MI would all lose service.
    To top that off, Sound Transit just announced they won’t be increasing service on their bus routes in the fall. Expect the 554 and 550 to get jam-packed come September.

    Unfortunately, Metro seems to have their mind made up. Only way their management will go back to the drawing board on this is if they start catching heat from the elected officials. People are already writing letters, so who knows.

  12. I gave up on the Lightrail delays and broken escalators as well as the 90 min cross-lake bus commute with 2 transfers. I got a car and my commute from Cap Hill to the Eastside is now only 20min. My rent on the hill is now $2550/month with parking, but if I move to the Eastside then it would be closer to $1800/month with free parking. Downtown Seattle is no longer a reliable transit hub.

    1. Rents in Bellevue are now sometimes higher than Seattle for comparable places,. The Eastside is large area so different parts are different. For $1800 with included parking, I’d guess it’s a garden apartment with surface parking in a car-dependent area, with not much more than a supermarket plaza or industry nearby?

      Metro’s reliability has gone down overall, approaching pre-2016 levels. This is mainly due to increasing congestion, which throws buses off-schedule, and the driver shortage, which leads to cancellation of runs. Metro plans to address the driver shortage in the September service change, but reducing the schedule to match driver availability. The congestion problem requires more buses per route and more standby buses, and that requires more drivers, which Metro doesn’t have.

      East Link may improve the commute situation, depending where on the Eastside you work. But I recognize you may not be able to wait until 2026, and it’s not certain it will open by then or remain open anyway. But it might make it easier to move back to Seattle if you want to then.

Comments are closed.