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Rail transit: the slow lane to urban density

Focusing development around rail stations makes good planning sense, but it's proving maddeningly hard to do. There are better routes by using bus stops.



One of the great but elusive promises of fixed-rail transit is that it supposedly stimulates desirable, walkable density around the stations. The corollary is that bus stops, being more moveable, don’t produce nodes of new housing and workplaces. 

Some current Seattle examples make clear the problems with TOD, or transit-oriented development. Messy, protracted Seattle “process” compounds the problems of acquiring, cleaning up, financing, buying off opposition, and permitting such projects in urban settings.  Nor is it easier going farther out to relatively uncontested and cheaper land, as the example of Bellevue’s Spring District makes clear. There may be a better solution, described below.

I start with a particularly dramatic example from Minneapolis, where for 10 years a juicy transit intersection with large open land has been hoping for redevelopment. Over time, the school district, which owns the property, developed second thoughts. Meanwhile, neighbors fond of a farmer’s market there and fearful of parking problems from redevelopment have also blocked the TOD dreams.  By contrast, suburban projects are reviving, even though demand for urban housing far outstrips that for the burbs.  Sam Newburg, writing about this for Citiwire.net, calls the pattern “arrested urban development.”

The current  Seattle version would be the tussles over the University District station of Sound Transit. When the new light-rail station opens in 2021, it should draw significant ridership, two blocks west of the UW campus. The university is trying to develop the neighborhood west of the campus for more housing for staff, faculty, and students, so it has plans to put up mid-rise buildings over the subway station.

The dispute, probably a short-lived one but maybe only the first of many, arises from a proposal by a retired UW architecture professor, Philip Thiel, to build a brick-paved plaza instead. Thus is joined the usual fight between those who want TOD and those who want transit stations to create amenities and open space, keeping traffic out and keeping property values low.

Underlying this dispute is an old one about a neighborhood resisting Goliath U. For years, UW was confined to its campus, while the U District languished in funky disarray. Former UW President Mark Emmert, intrigued by urban planning issues, led the westward migration. He bought the old Safeco Tower and converted it (rather oddly) to administrative uses, including a fancy office for himself on the top floor. The further plan was to have boulevards leading westward, lined with new development and anchored by the transit stop at Brooklyn between 43rd and 45th.

I suspect this Westward Ho! by the university will run afoul of its momentous financial difficulties, slowing the march. (Sell off UW Tower, anyone?) But it makes a lot of sense for the area to have more housing, in part because recruiting faculty and staff to the UW. is made more difficult by the high cost of Seattle housing.  (Interestingly, housing around transit stations is normally not high-end, in part because the market attracts those who can’t afford cars.)

In the world of planners, a train station would be a godsend and a stimulus and a magnet for such development. Instead, it might become marshy bog, discouraging other developers.

TOD advocates sometimes argue that a better way to get density around stations is to look outward, where the land is lower cost and the competing or resisting uses are fewer.  Portland, queen city of TOD, has had some success with this model, building from scratch around stations put in farmland. In this region, the classic illustration is the Spring District lying along the Bel-Red corridor connecting downtown Bellevue with Microsoft-land.

The area is made up of low-slung warehouses, a former Safeway distribution center, strip malls, and support services, so not many powerfully connected uses would be displaced. The major purchaser of land where the 120th St. Sound Transit station would open in 2023 is developer Wright Runstad and partner Shorenstein Properties. They envision development around the station that would employ 13,000 office workers and house 2,135 residents, all needing 10,000 parking stalls. 


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 6:33 a.m. Inappropriate

1 of 2

This is a brave foray into the toxic realm of Sound Transit. It’s a breath of fresh air -- well done, David.

I’d like to offer several additional points that might also inform the ongoing dialog regarding Sound Transit’s policies and management:

-- The taxing, spending, and bond-selling practices of that local government aren’t “five times that in Europe” – the financing plan that only now is coming to light is off-the-charts abusive to the people here (for example, the anticipated ST2 capital costs of $13.5 billion for 30-some miles of largely-useless light rail will require something like $85 billion of new regressive tax confiscations just as security for the long-term bonds – that financing plan is unprecedented and unconscionable by any metric).

-- The vague promises of Sound Transit’s advocates of “broader public benefit[s]” (walkable neighborhood amenities around stations, congestion relief, sprawl reduction, decreases in car ownership, cleaner air, cheap housing for UW employees, etc.) are not merely “elusive”, they are completely empty promises.

-- People here have no means of exerting political control over the management of that government, so we can’t elect boardmembers who share our views in order to head off the abusive financing plan that is being developed or change the all-rail spending policies to a much more efficacious bus-based system as this piece recommends.

Those three points allude to symptoms of the disease in our body politic. They in fact are the predictable results of the state legislature’s ill-advised decision in 1992 to create a municipality that fails to comply with one of our fundamental rights as Americans – the right to vote both for and against local government policy-setters.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 6:34 a.m. Inappropriate

2 of 2

Sound Transit has an unconstitutional structure. It is an unlawful government for reasons that are comparable to those that caused old-Metro to be unconstitutional. The reasons it is causing more harm to the public than good stem from how it deviates from what the US Constitution requires.

The supreme law of this country is clear. Decades ago the US Supreme Court said the noxious combination of a municipality with an appointive board and legislative powers violates the 14th Amendment. _Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_. That voters rights opinion distinguishes “appointive” boards (which only can be delegated administrative function powers) from “directly-elected” or “representative” boards (which can be delegated substantial governmental powers that are “legislative in the classical sense”).

_Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_ addresses the situation that existed with respect to a county government in eastern Long Island New York. That county’s policy-setting Board of Supervisors was an appointive board (just like Sound Transit’s) and it had been delegated excessive governmental powers. Those excessive powers were the ones that were “legislative in the classical sense”. Sound Transit’s discretionary governmental powers are at least as significant as those wielded by that county’s board.

Our state legislature screwed up in 1992. It gave regional transit authorities both an appointive board and broad discretionary legislative powers. It simply disregarded the limit on state legislatures discussed in _Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education_.

New York’s state legislature responded to that 1967 opinion by changing the county political structure, and by 1970 Suffolk County had a directly-elected legislature. Sound Transit’s flawed governance structure likewise must not continue, and for a variety of reasons the remedy should come from the state legislature and not the courts.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 7:37 a.m. Inappropriate

Acquiring land for TOD's is expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, it involves the coordination of numerous local, state, and federal agencies. The density near TOD's approaches levels that require huge investments in infrastructure, such as utilities.

Therefore, it's best to let the free market decide where people want to live. Right now, Americans overwhelmingly prefer suburbs. Indeed, living in spacious suburbs is greener, due to trees that absorb pollutants. And, we can grow our own fruits and vegetables.

I would not call any developer or property owner in Bellevue "greedy." Instead, the Bellevue property owners are simply trying to preserve their homes and businesses from eminent domain. That does not constitute "greed."

Also, I disagree that housing around TOD's is not "high end," because people who live there "can't afford to own cars." Smart growth towers are actually very expensive, since infill is expensive, due to construction and utility costs. It's cheaper to go build a 2200 square foot house on a quarter acre in East Pierce County or in Mt. Vernon.

Remember, light rail can only take 1% to 3% of today's vehicle trips off the road.

That's why there are better solutions. For example in Corvallis, Oregon, 20% of all commuters either walk or bike to work, since The City has made investments in bike and pedestrian friendliness. This 20% figure is higher than the proportion of commuters riding light rail, except Manhattan.

I have challenged the smart growth community for years to build more bike lanes and dissolve Sound Transit as an agency but nobody agrees. Since 20% of folks in Corvallis either walk or bike to work, then why not build more more sidewalks and bike lanes? It's about 1/1000th (one one-thousandth the cost) so why not give it a try?

As for the previous poster, Sound Transit has acted unconstitutionally in using gas tax monies to build light rail on an interstate highway. Kemper Freeman is suing for a 3rd or 4th time over this, and I am not sure if the court has ruled.

Tom Lane / http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com

TomLane

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

As for the previous poster, Sound Transit has acted unconstitutionally in using gas tax monies to build light rail on an interstate highway. Kemper Freeman is suing for a 3rd or 4th time over this [ ].

Wow. Those assertions are wrong on so many counts . . . who told you that stuff, Tom?

1) No state highway trust fund assets were used by Sound Transit to build light rail on any interstate highways. You’re 100% wrong about that. Moreover, Sound Transit and WSDOT say in their FEIS submissions to the federal government that other funds will be used for the capital spending on East Link -- this is from page 49 of Chapter 2:

“Sound Transit's regional transit programs are typically funded through a combination of voter-approved tax initiatives, FTA grants, issuing bonds, and fare box revenue.”

http://projects.soundtransit.org/Projects-Home/East-Link-Project/East-Link-EIS.xml

Do you really think WSDOT and Sound Transit are lying by omission, and that state gas tax revenues would be used for East Link? Cite your source for that assertion, Tom.

2) The actual claims Freeman raised in his legal actions are nothing like what you describe there, Tom. In case anyone is interested in the truth about those claims a bit of internet-searching reveals the truth. The claims Freeman raised in the first writ action are described in the majority opinion the state supreme court issued in April, 2011. The claims he raised in the second writ action (the one in Kittitas County) can be found here:

http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/newsroom/releases/SJ_Memorandum_Decision_3-5-12.pdf

3) As this piece notes, Kemper Freeman’s development company stands to benefit financially – big time – from East Link. That’s why he raised bogus claims. He’s trying to get the courts to provide case law that would harm the public’s interests. Here’s an essay that some readers of Crosscut may find of interest:

http://kemperfreeman.webs.com/

That essay describes how he’s been part of a fake-opposition PR and legal campaign for years. What Freeman actually has done -- signing the lame Statement Against for the 2008 voters guide, arguing weakly in opposition to ST2 at the roadshow stops with Nickels during the run-up to that election, directing some money to get I-1125 on the ballot, and the bogus lawsuits -- does not come close to any kind of legitimate opposition.

If you click on that “kemperfreeman” URL and then search for the term “second bogus lawsuit” you’ll see a description of the several legitimate legal claims that someone interested in preventing WSDOT’s handover of the highway infrastructure at issue would raise. Needless to say, none of the claims Freeman raises reference the key facts or controlling law underlying those legit claims.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip,

No I am not wrong. Sound Transit wants to use gas taxes to pay for light rail on I-90. This violates the 18th Amendment to the Washington State Constitution, that was voter approved in 1944. In 1944, voters only wanted gas taxes paying for highway purposes. If you want to legally build light rail with gas taxes, then you'll have to amend the Constitution to allow this.

Urban planners cannot ignore existing law in order to advance their dreams of TOD's.

For more information and references please see my web pages -
http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/republicans-endorse-initiative-1125-democrats-pelz-oppos/

Since light rail will never take more than 1% to 3% of existing vehicle trips off the road, then why not do what Corvallis, Oregon did, and build more bike lanes and sidewalks? 20% of Corvallis residents bike or walk to work, the highest in the USA.

I am still waiting for an answer, does anyone agree with me? As a cyclist I favor thousands of miles of bike lanes and bike paths in the greater Seattle area.

Why spend 100 to 1000 times the amount on light rail compared to bike lanes, when mass transit will only take 1% to 3% of cars off the road, compared to higher percentages for cycling and walking to work? For major metros, Portland is the highest nationwide, with 4% commuting by bicycle.

As for your Kemper Freeman sites, I have no interest in reading web sites that speculate about one's true motives and that question their integrity.

TomLane

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 12:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Crossrip,

No I am not wrong. Sound Transit wants to use gas taxes to pay for light rail on I-90.
. . .
For more information and references please see my web pages -
http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/republicans-endorse-initiative-1125-democrats-pelz-oppos/

Nothing at that webpage supports your claim about Sound Transit supposedly planning on using gas tax revenues to pay for light rail. Why are you spreading that falsehood?

crossrip

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:32 p.m. Inappropriate

We all know Smarth Growth is a couple of buzz words that mean anything BUT smartness.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 7:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Part 2 -

I'm a cyclist ... and for all other cyclists reading this ... and also those who don't own cars and/or who prefer to run or walk to work ...

Since building light rail costs 100 to 1000 times the cost of improving our sidewalks, and adding more bike lanes, and adding more bike paths, would you support ...

1. Adding bike lanes to all major roads where an adequate shoulder already exists ...

2. Banning all street parking, including overnight parking and overnight camping, to improve safety (i.e. folks needs to clean out their garages and park in their garage, never cluttering the street creating hazards for cyclists and skateboarders) ...

3. Filling in all potholes to increase bike safety ...

4. Fixing cracks and tree root issues in sidewalks ...

5. Finishing the entire Mountains to Sound Greenway with a paved trail, with lights 24/7 in areas zoned commercial and high density ... and until 10pm in areas zoned low density residential ...

6. Finishing the Burke Gilman Trail and other regional trails, such as the SR-169 bike trail from Renton to Maple Valley ...

7. Adding a seperate grade bike trail between Mirrormont and Issaquah

8. Adding a seperate grade trail between Issaquah and Renton on SR-900 ...

9. And, other trails and improvements as applicable ...

What do you think - Trails or trains ???

Billions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars?

TomLane

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 12:52 a.m. Inappropriate

I support none of it until you selfish children pay the same vehicle taxes as motorcycles, i.e., $85 a year, plus a mileage-based use fee to compensate for your non-contribution of gas tax revenues. Until then, hold a damn bake sale.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 8:05 a.m. Inappropriate

One thing I'm noticing is that Metro routes, unlike light rail routes, are not fixed and so routes can be shuffled onto other streets leaving behind development that formerly was very conveniently located on the route. I favor more buses over more rail for a million reasons, but what I'm seeing is that as Metro tries to cut costs by "consolidating routes", some neighborhoods and business districts lose big time. You mentioned Greenwood. We're about to lose the #5 through downtown Greenwood to Northgate. The downtown Greenwood business district is being passed over for a truck route on Holman / 105th. We'll now have to go up to 105th and transfer at a choatic and inhumane spot where now we have nice stops right in the business district just to get to Northgate which is just a couple of miles away. That's a pretty big threat to BOD - the idea that the route can go away - poof, gone.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Kate -

That's too bad. Don't expect too much support from the BOD people. I've found most of the bus people who hate rail to be 'BINOs'. That is Bus supporters in Name Only. No one really wants to spend the time to make good bus transit. They just use it as a wedge issue against rail transit. Bus transit has a place in any transit system, even with rail transit. But it's hardly a replacement.

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:37 p.m. Inappropriate

The 1960's and 1970's had excellent neighborhood bus service all over this city. People mainly had 1 car and tons of kids, and rode buses all day, whether for work or errands.

It's a shame we cannot recreate what actually worked, and worked very well.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The last place to have density would be a transit center.

Think about it, even if you hate parking and cars, you still have to get buses in and out of the center for it to be any use other than to the few people who will live within blocks of the station.

Ideally, you want a lot of space around the transit and a lot of parking and bus lanes. You may want a shopping mall and some low rise buildings, but not put all your eggs in one basket.

To me, Kent Station is a model of what transit building should be. It keeps it small. It doesn't overbuild and yet it provides a walkable, well used center with shops that are appropriate and well used by the citizens here.

jabailo

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Use buses or streetcars for in-city transportation. Use rail to transport large numbers of people from population centers to work centers. We could have made a huge impact on traffic if we'd built light rail to connect park and rides instead of building it to fill in density.

talisker

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 8:26 a.m. Inappropriate

Focusing more investment on buses would be a great thing for Seattle. Our leaders think they have to conduct a war on cars to get us to use alternate transportation methods. That's just wrong. We're willing, we just can't because the buses simply don't run enough.

Our policies are too dominated by people who seemingly didn't get enough of that toy tain set under their Christmas tree. We shouldn't spend money on streetcars to nowhere -- especially money we were told was going to be spent on sidewalks, bridges, and roads.

See also the fate of the 2011 Prop 1 transportation levy if you think I'm not being accurate.

I ran one of the campaigns against that levy and talked with hundreds of Seattle voters. They clearly don't mind spending money on transportation. They just didn't want to spend money on streetcars and bike lanes over road maintenance, sidewalks, bridge repairs, and *real* bus service improvements.

ddmiller

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 9:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Stepping back a bit would help all of us. When you look at more developed regions whose transit systems work reasonably well, you see a wide variety of system types used in a variety of ways. We're newbies at this and have barely given light rail a chance. I say give it a chance since it will have the capacity to carry significant numbers of riders. We're about to try Rapid Ride bus service which theoretically will move people more quickly using existing streets. I say give it a chance. We're installing street car line #2 in Seattle which will connect Capitol Hill and downtown, conveniently serving the new Yesler Terrace redevelopment area. I say give it a chance.
What we need more than anything is to work on all of these systems, including our roads, in a comprehensive way that is coordinated with our land use planning. Some systems have higher capacity; some give greater freedom and flexibility. Some systems impose great impacts on our land and land uses; some impose less but cost more. We just need to work to get the right ones in the right places - and see that they work together. This isn't easy - after all, we're not Portland.
I say more planning and less war.
Mark

Steady

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 6:12 p.m. Inappropriate

With all due respect I think the "a little bit of everything" approach is exactly what one would not do if you looked at communities that have effective public transport systems and is symptomatic of a total lack of effective planning and clear headedness.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

Tom Lane -

"Sound Transit has acted unconstitutionally in using gas tax monies to build light rail on an interstate highway."

The issue of light rail on I-90 is a confusing one. But your statement is incorrect. It's not unconstitutional to build light rail on an interstate highway. In fact, your statement confirms why it actually IS constitutional to put light rail on I-90.

Light rail was always planned for I-90 since the day it was built. There's even a Memorandum documenting this. The Constitutional argument you talk about is in the State constitution and it prevents state gas tax money from being used for transit purposes. However, since I-90 is a interstate highway, it can be argued that the right of way being used for light rail was built with federal money, not state money so there is no constitutional violation in play.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Please see above post that includes a web site documenting that everything that I said is factual.

TomLane

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Not factual Tom.

Posted Mon, Sep 3, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom, just so you know, your website is essentially unreadable. The layout and typography are a circus.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Will the last single family unit resident in Seattle please turn off the lights? Seattle is marching toward the day when all human life will be concentrated in urban cluster ghettos of various social mobility. Waterclosets along Madison, broom closets in Ballard, Mirabella's, Yesler Terace's, Othello Station's, Ageis, scattered apodments, decadent Denny Regrade dumps, S.L.U.Townhouse/apartments, Lake City 'lofts', etc. Are Windermere, Laurelhurst, Broadmoor, and historic Queen Anne and Capitol Hill districts safe? Sadly, the scattered tinker toy transit trolleys (abandoned waterfront, South Lake Union, and Broadway/Yesler/Jackson) plus the 1.2 mile Monorail and the multi-billion dollar boondoggle light rail are totally at odds with and not 'seamless' when meshed into the Metro bus system. Density in Seattle is joined at the hip with dysfunction.

animalal

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 12:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Reasonable densities that allow less traffic and make it easier for bicycle commuting are suburban densities, at 1000 to 1500 persons per square mile. For example, Bellevue is a low density city and much safer for cyclists than Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, increasing density with TOD's will make cycling difficult, and also increase air pollution.

TOD's and their goals to reduce GHG's have the unfortunate effect of raising housing prices since construction towering condos as infill projects are expensive. Several researchers have demonstrated that TOD's increase housing costs for the poor.

Check out UW PhD Student Gabriel Valle on how TOD's at Lake Tahoe are causing poverty among Hispanic service workers who serve the very rich tourists. Link - http://urbanhabitat.org/18-1/valle
Valle also wrote his SJSU masters' thesis on Green Infrastructure and its effects on poverty among service workers -
http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4707&context;=etd_theses

It is cheaper to build homes on land at the urban fringe on quarter acre lots, never in downtown environments where land and utilities are expensive. Seattle already has enough condos. People prefer homes with private yards in the suburbs. Unfortunately, the much maligned Washington State growth mgmt act prevents optimal expansion for the Seattle region. Compare Seattle to Salt Lake City, where there's no regional urban growth boundary. In the distant suburbs of Salt Lake, a new 2500 square foot house is 130K on a quarter acre lot with beautiful landscaping. Compare that to 600K for a new house on a tenth of an acre lot in Sammammish, against the urban growth boundary.

TomLane

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 11:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Quoting from Valle's thesis - "Laid out by Joe R. Feagin in, The New Urban Paradigm, are ways in which our city planners went wrong. He discusses the root cause of social issues in the city by examining the urban design of our cities. His argument about public transportation is that where ever efficient public transportation is created, the area then becomes priced out for many of the people that depend on it."

Absolutely since transit oriented developments consume tax monnies that could otherwise provide medical insurance for the uninsured, such as at Lake Tahoe and Truckee, California. The service workers can't afford the expensive dwellings in the transit oriented developments.

And, there are many cheaper ways of getting traffic off the roads, such as bus rapid transit, bike lanes, bike paths, and vanpools.

Places such as Vail, Colorado have free bus service, and Seattle, before the rich far left took over, used to have a ride free zone.

We need new political leaders who can implement all of these instead of their obsession with inefficient expensive modes of transport such as light rail and TOD's.

TomLane

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 1:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Seattle's free ride zone was a disaster. It made the bus system a haven for every drooling addict and drunk. Getting rid of it is one of the few positive moves I've seen from any level of government here.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"The corollary is that bus stops, being more moveable, don’t produce nodes of new housing and workplaces."

So why is city planning increasingly focusing TOD (using other terms like within xx distance from ANY transit) around bus stops? It's so mutable to be laughable. KC Metro giveth and KC Metro taketh away...

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I should have clarified my view is that bus stops are, in practice, not very moveable at all. Just ride Metro in Seattle and you will see residual commercial nodes from way back at the current bus stops. Such stops develop a constituency of users and development that makes them very hard to change. The great majority do very nicely in shaping land use.

A lot more could be done to make them even more permanent. Encourage nearby coffee shops to mount signs that give the countdown times for the next bus to arrive, for instance. Provide safe places for kids to wait, out of the rain. More services for bus drivers at the end of their routes. Better kiosks.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

The TSRP has many studies about the realites and impacts of TOD that are worth a good read. Bottom line is, there is no 'formula'. We can only work with what we have.

Consider that the facts of suburban zoning could be the problem? No amount of densifying in some areas stops that -- only strong regional planning and the will that 'thou shalt not build a subdivision or sprawling office park in xxx location'. The built areas have to be constrained and bounded. That is how they will naturally dense up..something few municipalities will allow in this great state of Washington.

Building on farmland to me is creating suburbs out of the country. Anyone who tells me they moved to 'the country', and who is not farming, is just creating a new burb. The many planned communities of history built on empty land have not stayed within their boundaries. I'd prefer to preserve local agricultural areas. Building on Bel-Red is not comparable to Portland. That is already a built environment.

The looming question is, how do we insure that there are homes available near transit for low income people; for the people that do the work of keeping everything cleaned, operated, serviced, etc? How does each 'town' have a mix of homes and job such that more people do not NEED to travel 20-30-60 miles to work? I'm thinking Seattle 'leaders' would not be happy were that to occur as they plan to take the bulk of their starry eyed 'projected' growth without regard to the reality that everyone does not want to live in the city, and more seriously without regard to the fact that, without aggressive regional planning, a city growing 'up' just begets more sprawl. Our region cannot handle it.

What would be wrong with small circulator busses out in Redmond, Bel Red and Tukwila to move people both to and from the train for longer trips, and to town center for local work and commerce? Some Maryland counties do that, which greatly reduces the need for parking at the Metro stations. Plus, the transit agencies coordinate their schedules, to boot.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Urban Land Institute partnered with the City of Shoreline, the City of Seattle, and King County Metro to study development around the new RapidRide service. I represented the City of Shoreline as its Economic Development Manager. The entire report can be found at the link below.

http://www.uli.org/report/developing-the-next-frontier-brt-and-land-use/

Many helpful things are in the report, but germaine to this conversation is the necessity to consider development along bus rapid transit (BRT) lines similar to RapidRide as different than the 1/4 mile radius station area "puddles" one finds with fixed rail transit. With RapidRide, TOD will happen along a 1/2 mile long corridor . . . think "Aurora Avenue."

A second key insight comes from experience to date with Metro RapidRide & Snoh County Swift: only 30% of the trips are commutes to work. Light rail must be a higher percentage (does anyone know the percentage?); my early conclusion is that perhaps living without a car in a neighborhood served by BRT might be more convenient than one served by light rail. More stops means more opportunities for errands, dining, entertainment, etc. For example, living on Aurora's E Line means Seattle Center, Fremont, Green Lake, Oak Tree Cinemas, and -- of course -- Shoreline offerings such as Central Market, Shoreline Community College, Sky Nursery, and Costco.

In Shoreline we are working on both expressions since our $120 million investment in our 3-mile stretch of Aurora appears perfectly suited for RapidRide, and since we are beginning work on planning for our two light rail station areas. The challenges will be many, but connecting the two to each other is particularly thorny.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Way to write a good piece to gauge readership about ridership Mr. Brewster.

I wish we could all just get along (there's a commuter joke in that collection of words, I just can't get to it). Every time a commuting article comes around the vitriol comment gallery seems to emerge. It is interesting to see people just waiting to pounce on the subject of transit and its impact on society. So many interesting ideas it reads as if we just need to make them work together.

I have to strongly agree with Steady's comments - give some things a chance. Let some things grow and succeed or even fail, before we say they will.

It's interesting to ponder that many of our current transportation woes, at least in the Seattle area, may have been eased, if we had just kept those darn trolley lines in place. What mode of transportation or recent industry bail out of a certain mode of transportation caused their demise again?

By the way, I speak not only of the recent (and useful) waterfront trolley but of some of the ones that ran on current bus lines. I wonder if some of the money government is spending for light rail, short reach streetcar lines (why does the slut stop short of eastlake) and new highway projects for the port, could have been used for other things. Oh well, at least we can get from westlake to the seattle center without bothering the guests at the four seasons.

My idea, how about an X shaped monorail that connects the four corners of Seattle? No.

How about this, rapid bus only lanes from downtown via Mercer/eastlake to the NE, Elliot/15th to the NW, Denny-Boren to the SE and highway 99 to the SW all from the Seattle Center. Then we could all pack onto the monorail to downtown Seattle or use and improve the existing TOD around the Seattle center. Turn the old key arena into a super bus barn. Thoughts?

I am currently living in a city (Buenos Aires) with multiple modes of public transportation and the best form is the bus only rapid transit lanes. They also have bike lanes similar to Seattle's that work. The main difference is a solid concrete bump that separates cars from bicycles. It works here and let me tell you - the drivers here are CRAZY compared to Seattle.

uncletim

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Every time a commuting article comes around the vitriol comment gallery seems to emerge.

You don’t have the pattern in focus.

Every time a story relating to Sound Transit is published its PR team springs into action. Fake opponents with cranky sound bites get quoted saying dim things, and they post inane comments. These scripted “statements by opponents” usually tout some unrealistic alternative transit mode, and cite incorrect or confusing reasons for it. It's how the financial beneficiaries of Sound Transit's financing practices manage and control the public debates.

Why do we see that kind of stuff time after time, from disreputable and often anonymous sources? It is a propaganda technique Sound Transit’s PR operatives use to make that government’s actions and policies appear reasonable. It's nothing special; it's Propaganda 101.

Here are some examples:

-- When the RTA was in its early stages a flaky “Rhododendron Line” was described as a stalking horse:

http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920313&slug;=1480824

-- In the late 1990’s when Sound Transit was in the early stages the stalking horse was “Personal Rapid Transit” pods,

-- In the early 2000’s the preferred fake-alternative was a “Mag-Lev” system,

-- Sound Transit’s fake-opponents John Niles and Kemper Freeman tout vague “BRT” schemes while ignoring the key flaws with Sound Transit’s governance structure and financing schemes,

-- Above in this thread we’ve got Tom Lane advocating for a vast network of “bike lanes”, while spreading dissembling nonsense designed to distract readers here from the key flaws with Sound Transit’s management’s practices and its governance structure,

-- You give us this gem: "My idea, how about an X shaped monorail that connects the four corners of Seattle?"

Those are examples of the PR team using bogus stalking horses and straw-man arguments in efforts to mislead the public into believing the best, most noble path is the one Sound Transit is forging.

I have to strongly agree with Steady's comments - give some things a chance.

Let's see if you have a clue. Estimate what "giving Sound Transit a chance" would cost the people and businesses of this region in terms of new taxes over the next forty-plus years. You should show everybody your "tolerant", "can't we all get along" approach is tethered to some semblance of fiscal reality. I doubt it is.

crossrip

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

It's difficult to include sarcasm into typeface crossrip but my idea about an X-shape monorail was me being goofy on the original idea of the monorail. There is a part of me that loves riding the monorail. The one at Disneyworld is awesome if you ever get out the chance to ride it.

I find it interesting that the you actually think a public agency has the ability to coordinate this media dominance that you point out. I would love to see a picture of the conspiracy room you must keep at your house - strings with local politicians hanging here and there, wax crayon circles over headlines from pdf printout accounts you keep in files. Am I right? Just a little?

Crossrip, you always seem so angry and prepared to jump down peoples throats; be it south seattle, education or transportation.
Did you lose land to sound transit or are you just sick of paying taxes for things you hate?
Is there anything positive in your civil life or is everyone/thing working against you?
I don't know what person wronged you as you have moved along in life but I would love to read
your sensible solution(s).

What my tolerant, can't we all get along, give sound transit a chance ideas come from is growing up in the area and reading history. As long as we put humans in charge, as long as humans are involved we are doomed to fail and succeed - over and over.

Of course things government spends money on fails, at times miserably. But things also succeed, at times brilliantly. Please don't make me list off a bunch of things to back this up. Just take a walk outside on your unpaved street and take a a look around and you may pick up some ideas. But to sit there and just hate things because you hate government just doesn't make sense to me. But, for all I know, you are just a lackey for sound transit, writing this stuff to get us all riled up.

Actually, I bet you are actually david brewster just trying to get readers to write it. That's it!
I do enjoy reading you stuff though. I was sad to see you leave the weekly. Sorry I never made it to you town hall thing/place but it was great to see you use your civic energy to muster up this crosscut e-zine or what ever you call it.

I am so sorry to have to out you. No wonder you picked Crossrip. makes so much sense.

uncletim

Posted Sat, Sep 1, 7:41 a.m. Inappropriate

[T]o sit there and just hate things because you hate government just doesn't make sense to me.

First, nobody cares what you think about me. Second, if I hated government I wouldn't be posting about how Sound Transit was structured in an unconstitutional manner.

Let's drill down into your proposal. Estimate what "giving Sound Transit a chance" would cost the people and businesses of this region in terms of new taxes over the next forty-plus years. Everyone wants to gauge how reasonable your views on this subject are.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"The major purchaser of land where the 120th St. Sound Transit station would open in 2023 is developer Wright Runstad and partner Shorenstein Properties. They envision development around the station that would employ 13,000 office workers and house 2,135 residents, all needing 10,000 parking stalls."

Comment: TOD is supposed to increase transit use and reduce auto use. With one parking stall for every 1.5 workers and residents, it doesn't seem that this particular TOD is designed to produce many new transit riders or to help reduce the taxpayer's subidy of LINK.

Posted Tue, Aug 28, 7:16 p.m. Inappropriate

TOD, transit oriented development, is related to service attributes, not mode: frequency, reliability, speed, and span. The best TOD is pedestrian oriented; it needs a tight walkable street grid and sidewalks.

Seattle, south of 85th Street, developed along streetcar lines with pretty close stop spacing. The streetcars were torn up in 1940. They had not been maintained well. The electric trolleybus network that replaced the streetcars has lasted longer, 72 years so far. The George Benson waterfront streetcar was less than permanent. The stop spacing of bus or rail helps determine the development pattern. The similar stop spacing of streetcar and arterial BRT would result in similar development, if it also has similar service attributes. development follows ridership potential. The streetcar and bus routes in Seattle have been quite permanent. Note that electric trolleybus infrastructure provides a visual cue to developers. Transit provides mobility for pedestrians by extending their range. Some lines are quite short and provide little advantage (e.g. SLU).

TOD requires several actions by different parties (e.g., zoning, transit, markets); the most important is the private sector. development is slow today after the 2008 recession.

There is a diversity of taste and market preference in housing. Households also form, break up, and reform through decades.

The First Hill streetcar will connect Yesler Terrace with the Capitol Hill Link station. It will provide a slow and indirect connection with downtown Seattle.

The key choices are about the allocation of scarce funds and rights of way.

eddiew

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Why don't we let the free market decide about transit and TOD?

1) Privatize the federal and state highway system.
2) Eliminate all free parking on city streets. All autos would be required to pay their way to park even in front of your own house.
3) Privatize Metro and Sound Transit.
4) Stop protecting "our" oil supply with the US military.
5) Eliminate most zoning, especially height restrictions and minimum parking requirements.

I believe implementing these five steps would result in a TOD/Density boom and suburb exodus.

This is an interesting thought experiment that points out that the anti-transit/density crowd is really advocating a top-down, state controlled, socialist development plan.

andy

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 9:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Suburb exodus? Ever heard of "drive until you qualify"?

One does not have to be a socialist to look forward to the day when neoliberalism's wishful thinking has run its course, assuming the nightmare stage is survivable.

Christopher Booker, per Wikipedia at "wishful thinking": " 'the fantasy cycle' ... a pattern that recurs in personal lives, in politics, in history – and in storytelling. When we embark on a course of action which is unconsciously driven by wishful thinking, all may seem to go well for a time, in what may be called the “dream stage”. But because this make-believe can never be reconciled with reality, it leads to a “frustration stage” as things start to go wrong, prompting a more determined effort to keep the fantasy in being. As reality presses in, it leads to a “nightmare stage” as everything goes wrong, culminating in an “explosion into reality”, when the fantasy finally falls apart."

afreeman

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

"Drive until you qualify" was pre-housing crash. Almost all new development is going into 4-7 storey mixed use apartments in the city.

My thought experiment involved no wishful thinking. I don't care where people want to live. I just do not want to continue subsidizing suburbs.

Suburbs were created deliberately to house returning soldiers after WWII. This was and is massive social engineering on a national scale. The interstate highway system was financed from the income tax, and zoning was implemented to restrict density.

We have received what we wished for. It was a 1950's wish--that is the problem.

andy

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 5:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Drive until you qualify refers to low end urban consumers, not new development which continues to follow as high end as current mass market projections will support. Witness the Crosscut commenter who says affordable housing is not the urban (re)development industry's responsiblity. It was not always this way, for a time with the advent of that which you mention, except for your error on zoning, and something you do not—the advent of equal payment mortgages— new housing development aimed for the middle to low end of the mass market.

The housing boom just past was unusual in many respects, not the least of which was the massive social engineering that ironically inspired a neoliberal housing and finance industry to produce and market unsustainable products that laid waste to the high potential of numerous communities and individuals. Greenspan: "I had no idea they would do that."

As for zoning being implemented to restrict density. The first zoning ordinance as we know it was enacted in NYC in 1916. It "authorized construction of a city for 55 million people and 250 million workers." Jerold Kayden, 2000 page 9, quoting James Felt, 1958. As we all know NYC still has quite a way to go to reach those numbers. Even to this day the zoning of most major cities, Seattle being no exception, "authorizes construction" for three or more times anticipated growth.

Long standing suburban and exurban zoning does attempt to moderate densities, although in some situations and places more than in others and, as such, makes improper grounds for wishful thinking about city life. Even Smart Growth has geography in which it wishes to limit density, hopefully not to keep unwanted classes out.

afreeman

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 11:26 p.m. Inappropriate

What is your motivation for wanting TOD's? Personally, my first choice is to ride my bike and my second choice is to ride a car. Reason - both are convenient and available on demand. Whereas one has to wait for buses and trains to arrive. And, you have to walk to the bus or train station. Even if you live in a transit oriented development, such as the Issaquah Highlands, you still have to walk to the Issaquah Highlands bus station, or, park in their parking garage. It's easier to just get on your bike, and ride the established bike lanes in places such as Corvallis, Oregon.

Why do you want to ride trains when there is so much time involved in 1) walking to the train stop, and 2) riding the train and having to wait at each and every stop for new riders to get on?

I do not see anything practical about riding a train given that it's a waste of time compared to riding my bike or car.

TomLane

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 9:10 a.m. Inappropriate

Issaquah Highlands is not TOD. It is more like Brasilia.

I ride my bike to work every day from Beacon Hill to Fremont, so I am sort of on your side. On weekends I ride out to suburbia sometimes. Every time I get stuck in cul de sac hell or run up against the 405 "great wall of china". I know very few cyclists who think suburbia is bicycle nirvana.

I do ride the light rail sometimes and it does work rather well, although there are things that could be improved. It is packed every day at rush hour now, so it is hard to get a seat.

andy

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Issaquah Highlands a transit oriented developement? Drive thru any day or evening and look at all the cars/suv's. It's a rare person up there, except school children, who ride a bus or any other type of mass transit, although many drive to a park and ride and then ride a bus.

You're right though. No one will ride a train if they have to walk more than 1/2 block.

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 4:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom Lane - Your example of Corvallis, Oregon is interesting, but I'm not sure it is a good example. Seattle is 10 times larger, and has more than 10 times the population (both acording to Google). On the map, it looks like Corvallis is maybe 5 miles from one end to the other, on the long side, whereas Seattle is closer to 20 miles. That distance differential is really discouraging to the novice and possibly even intermediate rider.

Posted Wed, Aug 29, 11:20 p.m. Inappropriate

Corvallis is a college town and the study found that college towns had a higher rate of bike and pedestrian commuting. Yes, you are correct that Corvallis is smaller however it certainly has more bike lanes and bike paths per square mile than Seattle. Why not do this in Seattle since it is cheaper than building light rail ? Link -

http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/corvallis-oregon-smart-growth-commuting-in-united-states-2009/

TomLane

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 12:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Now really, how what "smart" individual would ever apply the transit "solutions" from a town of 54,000 people, in a metro area of 88,000 people, to a city of 610,000 people, in a metro area of 3.6 million people? And here I had thought only dogs and Republicans were incapable of being embarrassed.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle is hilly, Corvallis is flat.

Posted Thu, Aug 30, 12:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Light rail is coming, like it or not. It will do nothing whatsoever to ease congestion or reduce pollution, but it will achieve its major unspoken goal: To spare white yuppies the unspeakable horror of taking the bus. Other than that, there is no purpose to it at all.

The ocean's worth of empty words already spilled, and the oceans to come, are laughable when you realize the simplicity of what light rail is actually about.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Aug 31, 11:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Where people want to live is organic. No planners of any kind are organic - they push, shove and maniupulate.

The current planning system is broken.

Posted Sat, Sep 1, 8:04 a.m. Inappropriate

There is a tendency to think solely in terms of zoning and transportation here, to assume that if you have a light rail stop and appropriately-zoned land, the housing will magically spring up. This overlooks the important role of public spaces and place-making.

People choose to live in places because of a combination of factors, including price, commute times, convenience (like stores and restaurants) and amenities (like parks and walks). So unless the developer builds in significant parks and walks, the public sector itself needs to step forth and provide these. That's one of the big differences between mixed use development in downtown Bellevue and Vancouver, BC. In downtown Bellevue, all of the uses are there, but they are spread out over such a large area, and with so few parks and walkable spaces that the city is not really an enjoyable place to live. Contrast this with the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver, where there are not only a number of good shopping areas, and small scale buildings along most of the streets, but a great public waterfront with a legendary public pool. Even in the major redevelopment areas next to False Creek and Coal Harbor, a major condition of redevelopment was the construction of new community centers, the Round House Center to the south and another on Coal Harbor to the north.

In the case of Bel-Red, it will take a lot more than a New Urbanist plan with a modicum of open space to make that area attractive for residents. Wright Runstad's plan is a grid of office buildings and residential towers with some open space in the middle. There's really no big, bold public space. The "suburban pioneers" moving into that project will not see actual light rail service for another eight or ten years. Meanwhile, they will be surrounded by blackberry fields, warehouses and some really scruffy industrial uses. With land costs accounting for only about 15 or 20 percent of the finished costs of a unit, why would you not pick a more "finished" neighborhood?

That's why there is an apartment boom on in places like Queen Anne and Capitol Hill. The young, urban tech workers who are the tenants do not have to make financial bet about where we stand in the real estate recovery. There are already stores and restaurants up and down the street around them, eliminating much of the retail lease-up risk for the developers. And the residents can walk out their door to nearby parks, views and open spaces.

We need to think about housing, "residential development" and neighborhoods more practically and in more day-to-day terms, asking questions like, "what will make this an easy, fun and enjoyable place to live?" It's not just about zoning and "infrastructure" but the human experience. Bel-Red has potential, but it is going to take collective commitment to place making to make the place work.

-Rod Stevens
(did analysis of market opportunities for the Bel-Red plan and was project manager for Orenco Station, one of the first transit-oriented developments in the Portland area.)

Posted Sat, Sep 1, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Tom Lane: How can you advocate for growth in rural areas far from employment centers (east Pierce County, Mt. Vernon) and encourage everyone to bike to work at the same time? Do you seriously beleive that many people would ride from east Pierce County to Seattle, or even to Tacoma, on a daily basis?

I agree that not everyone wants to live in a dense urban environment, and that TOD isn't a single solution that will solve all of our problems, but the alternatives you propose seem divorced from reality. I agree with the commenter above who noted that comparing Seattle to Corvallis isn't very useful, and I fail to see how removing all limits to sprall will lead to environments more conducive to bicycling. The system of exurbs you describe would be impossible without a heavy reliance on cars.

Perhaps if the metro area was organized into a number of Corvallis sized hubs, with employment centers within five or ten miles of all housing, your vision might work - if people bought into it and decided to live within biking distance of their jobs. If the TOD people error in assuming that everyone wants to live in a condo above a light rail station, though, I think you make a similar mistake in assuming that large numbers of people will want to bike to work, even if they have to ride "only" five or tem miles.

skronk

Posted Tue, Sep 4, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Jorgan Bader sends along this comment to the author:

Brewster's Commentary, dated August 28, 2012, completely
mischaracterized the plaza plan by UW professor emeritus, Phil Thiel,
for the surface of Sound Transit's U District Station. The plan would
develop the station's surface into an active center for people, who or
work in the anticipated mid and highd rises nearby, to mingle,
recreate, and enjoy community activities like the piazzas of the
Italian renaissance cities and the squares in the heart of many
European and South American capitalsdo,
Professor Thiel's plan anticipated mid and high rise structures
between I-5 and 15th Ave. N.E. south of N.E. 50th St. To compensate
Sound Transit for the surface of its station, Professor Thiel proposes
a plan for transfer of development rights similar to that the mayor
put out for South Lake Union. Developers could build taller
structures on their nearby lots by depositing into a fund for "buying"
the plaza's air space and transfering its development potential to
their lots. The plaza would increase property values of the adjoining
property by providing much needed open space and a sense of community.
Downtown has Freeway Park, City Hall Park, Steinbrueck Park,
Waterfront Park, Hing Hay Park and Westlake Park as a focal point;
Capitol Hill has Cal Anderson-Broadway Park/Playfield and Volunteer
Park; Belltown has the Sculpture Garden, Myrtle Edwards Park; and the
Seattle Center. The University District has no equivalent. Open
space is important for crowded areas. Seattle plans to spend a half
billion dollars for removing the viaduct and building an AlaskanWay
promenade,and over three hundred million dollars on the Mercer Street
Project for South Lake Union and its pedestrian overpasses to South
Lake Union park to accomodate that area's urban renewal.
This dispute is over a vision of Seattle's future: Sound Transit
promotes Hong Kong Island as its ideal; Professor Thiel cites Paris as
his model.

--Jorgan Bader

Posted Thu, Oct 18, 9:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Decades ago, there was a street car that ran from Rainier Beach to Renton along Rainier Avenue. These things come and go, and come and go. We'll have lightrail for a few decades, until they figure out that cars are better once again. In the meantime, I am not using lightrail because all the stations near me don't have parking lots, and I don't want to buy a lightrail cubicle to live in. Something about freedom, you know? This is the U.S. after all.

drizz

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