Big housing bills in the legislature


Seattle’s new Mayor does not seem to be a fertile source of pro-housing legislation, having campaigned on skepticism about changing single family zones. But instead of struggling for dimes, we can pick up dollar bills at the state level. The bills are SB 5670 and HB 1782, and as explained by local treasure Dan Bertolet, would legalize:

Up to sixplexes on all residential lots within a half-mile of a major transit stop in cities with populations of 20,000 or more.

Up to fourplexes on all residential lots elsewhere in cities of 20,000 or more.

Duplexes on all residential lots in cities with populations of at least 10,000.

There are also substantial limits on parking minima, and some anti-displacement measures. Cities could skip these prescriptions and instead adopt city-wide density minima, but they would have to show this did not have disparate impacts — no putting all the growth in the “urban renewal” sectors and leaving the upscale places untouched.

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SB 5528 Gives Transit Power Back to Voters

Senate Bill 5528’s local option will provide significant benefits for regional and citywide rapid transit expansion.

The 2022 legislative session is starting off with a bang this week. Before the first week is done Senate Bill 5528 will have a hearing in the transportation committee. The bill picks up where last year’s HB 1304 left off but expands the function to a regional level under the governance of Sound Transit.  A city, subarea, county, or combination thereof will have the option to create an “Enhanced Service Zone” to target the investments their voters care about most

SB 5528 allows the Sound Transit Board to give voters the opportunity to fund faster construction timelines on existing projects and/or fund new transit improvements and services for individual cities and sub-areas within the Sound Transit district. 

What is possible is only limited by what the individual cities and their voters want. Some sample potential projects and Enhanced Service Zones:

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Link a little slower than expected

Focus on the Sexy Light Rail

Sound Transit recently released a revised Link schedule that will take effect January 8th “to better reflect actual trip times.” The main difference is that a Northgate-Angle Lake trip turns out to be 4 minutes slower, from 53 minutes to 57.

There are four spots where it loses one of those minutes: Roosevelt-Northgate, UW-U District, Westlake-Capitol Hill, and Mt. Baker-Beacon Hill. No doubt, to some extent these particular segments are not the only source of delay, but just where it rounds up to full minutes.

This is actually a good news story: Columbia City-Capitol Hill will still be 21 minutes, 1 minutes less than the time pre-pandemic. I’d speculate it to be a function of recovering ridership, and the resulting frictions adding 7% to overall times. But ST’s John Gallagher says that the Northgate segment is a bit slower than expected, and on the older segments two more minutes makes it easier to stay on schedule and respect timed transfers.

Construction and zoning vs supply and demand

Frequent commenter RossB recently posted a link to the paper, The Impact of Zoning on Housing Affordability. The title is somewhat of a misdirect because in the opening paragraph it says:

This paper argues that in much of America the price of housing is quite close to the marginal, physical costs of new construction.

The Introduction goes on at some length to emphasis that it is about the cost of housing and not meant to address the issue of poverty. This is key to recognize because it separates the homeless issue from the affordability of housing. As it states on page 4, “To us, a housing affordability crisis means that housing is expensive relative to its fundamental costs of production, not that people are poor.” This is a key concept when related to supply and demand. People who aren’t in the market for a home by definition are not part of demand as it relates to economics. They may want a house, they may need a place to live, but they are not influencing the market price of homes. Or, as they say in the paper, “Hence, we focus on the gap between housing costs and construction costs.”

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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan Headshot

No one is going to remember the Durkan administration, positively or negatively, based on its transit or land use legacy. The twin crises of the pandemic and a reckoning with racist policing will dominate the historical record. But here at STB, we always size up the outgoing mayor (Murray, McGinn, Nickels) on this basis. And her legacy will largely be stasis, with isolated progress and some major setbacks.

The preceding Murray administration had largely locked in a transportation agenda with a vehicle license fee for bus service, Move Seattle, and Sound Transit 3. A first Durkan term would therefore always have been one of consolidation. Ms. Durkan campaigned as a policy continuity candidate from a productive but scandal-ridden predecessor. On this measure, her term was a disappointment.

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Getting ready for big changes to regional transit


With 2021 coming to a close, our region has set sail on a major, exciting, one-in-a-generation opportunity to restructure and reform our transit network thanks to billions in capital investments. In 2008, regional voters approved Sound Transit 2 (ST2), and these investments are now bearing fruit as our regional light rail network will nearly triple in size. We must prepare before this is complete in 2024.

Northgate Link gives us a preview of what’s coming, as bus and light rail integration reshapes our idea of what’s possible with transit. Our bus-based, one-seat ride network is changing as trains reemerge to play a large role. In addition, the pandemic fundamentally changes how our transit network will be used, as many traditional commutes disappear. Transit’s role in moving 9-5 workers into a few hubs migrates into a broader community-and-corridor-based network serving a wider variety of people 24/7. While there will still be a need to serve major centers such as Bellevue, UW, Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett, their role and magnitude as transit magnets is still uncertain.

King County Metro will usher in an entirely new network in several parts of King County to integrate with four different Link extensions (!), a topic which will be heavily covered by this blog. Two new RapidRide Lines will enter service thanks to partnerships between King County, Seattle, Burien, and White Center as the first new RapidRide lines since the F Line in 2014. Madison G Line offers an opportunity to restructure transit service in the densest part of our state, while the H Line upgrades crucial north-south service in a long corridor with a community strongly tied to transit. RapidRide is the linchpin in Metro’s frequent regional network offering marquee service to nearly 70,000 pre-pandemic riders on the busiest corridors. Improving service on existing Lines could be in the cards as well with Metro hiring staff to evaluate opportunities for investment (based on KCM job postings earlier this year).

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News roundup: no better friend

B&W of A Sound Transit Link Leaving A Foggy Northgate for Angle Lake
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

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ST Board makes the obvious decision

OMF at S. 336th St is “preferred”

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board made the responsible decision and designated S. 336th St in Federal Way as the “preferred” site of South Link’s Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF). It has not actually eliminated the other two sites from consideration, but the process will put somewhat more weight on 336th.

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Real-time info will get better next year

Zee Shaner, writing on the Sound Transit blog:

Shortly after the Northgate, Roosevelt and U District stations opened in October, riders quickly noticed that next train information had disappeared from 1 Line platform digital signs. Passengers wondered why it was ‘broken’ and when we could ‘get it working again’.  

We want to clarify that the system is working just as it always has, but we made the deliberate decision to turn it off until its replacement arrives in the spring.   

Why would we turn it off? 

A well-written piece that answers a lot of questions readers have been asking on Twitter and here on the comment threads.

Inslee’s housing and climate proposals

From the Governor’s blog:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2022 supplemental budget proposes significant funding to reduce poverty, increase housing and resources for homeless individuals, expand K-12 learning supports, invest in clean transportation and green economy, decarbonize buildings, and protect salmon habitat.

The governor released his budget in Olympia on Thursday and was joined by David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management. The full budget presentation followed three events earlier in the week, with new salmon investmentsclimate strategy investments and homelessness funding.

The climate strategy includes lots of electrical decarbonization efforts, including a $1,000 tax credit rebate for e-bikes, and up to $7,500 for electric cars. There’s also an unspecified investment in “clean bus technology, and improvements to transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

On the housing front, there’s $800M to build new affordable housing and help people stay in their homes, and, of note to our readers, a proposal to legalize “missing middle” housing types:

Inslee is proposing a change to statewide policy that would allow for creation of a greater variety of “middle housing” types such as duplexes and townhomes in areas within a half mile of major transit stops in large cities. This change will also allow duplexes in most areas of large and mid-size cities. The state will provide technical assistance, including developing a model ordinance, to help cities implement these new measures.

One can dream that eventually “housing” and “climate” will cease to be discrete initiatives in the minds of our politicians (and voters). But good stuff nonetheless. On to the legislature.

More reporting and commentary: Seattle Times, Publicola, The Urbanist.

We are an unruly lot: Five observations on communicating with transit customers

Photo of a sculpture in Seattle, Waiting for the Interurban. There are five sculpted people and a small dog with a human bearded face. The characters have been "dressed" in bright ragtag clothes.
Image from r/SeattleWA
“Waiting for the Interurban” dressed by annekak

The recent stall of a Sound Transit light rail train after the Apple Cup has brought on a public discussion on communicating with transit customers. Let’s hope that conversation continues. It is an important one.

Have you ever felt a touch of fate? Several weeks ago I decided to take public transit from Seattle to visit the Kinsey Collection Exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum. (Fantastic show for a more visceral understanding of African American history. Gone now but you can check out on The Kinsey Collection website.) It turned out to be a freakishly on-target, real life look at public transit customer communication.

It all started with my smug self meeting up with reality on the trip back to Seattle.

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News roundup: more

Watch Your Step

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