Posted by & filed under Architecture, Land Use, Policy.

Joe Mabel CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

is a German term for a vertical addition. That is, an increase in height by the addition of one or more floors to an existing structure. Aufstockungen are quite common in Europe, and have been for generations. Unfortunately, they’ve been rather underutilized in Seattle–at least outside of single-family housing. However, as the demand for housing increases in the city, this could be an innovative strategy to address the shortage without losing the soul of the city.

One of the projects I’ve been working on is an addition to an existing low-rise apartment building. Inquiries to add additional units to existing buildings have seen an uptick, though most of these have been along the lines of converting storage spaces to dwelling units. Many of these buildings aren’t maxed out on zoning height, though may be height restricted due to building type and level of protection. This uptick has been noted in local media, including a recent Capitol Hill Seattle post on sneaking in new units where possible.

Ample benefits

There are a plethora of reasons it would be beneficial for the Council to promote such a tactic. Just a few:

  1. It would reduce pressure to tear down older buildings by increasing their income potential. This is especially critical as land values continue to rise, along with corresponding rents.
  2. It would accommodate additional density. While Seattle unfortunately lacks quality perimeter block development (partially a result of bad land use regs and historic underdevelopment of lots), a 2011 study in Graz, Austria, showed a 1-2 story increase could result in 40-80 additional units per block. Graz, like Seattle, suffers from a heinously amount of area dedicated to quasi-suburban living (detached single family housing) – however the downtown core features a number of fabulous perimeter blocks with great courtyards.
  3. It extends the usefulness of the building.
  4. It preserves the character of the street. I’m constantly shocked at the number of urbanists that find block after block of banal developments acceptable, especially as they consume Seattle’s gritty heritage–heritage that contributes to the vitality of neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. I’m a big fan of granularity, diversity, and keeping something other than a semblance of old facades.
  5. Sustainability, sustainability, sustainability.
  6. They could also allow for preservation of in-city green space–both immediate (vertical rather than horizontal additions into courtyards or adjacent yards) and regional, by reducing pressure on sprawl.
  7. It can drive (actual) innovation. In many European cities, units or floors are being installed as prefabricated elements, saving substantial time (installation of lightweight wood panels or modules in a few days or less), money – and in some instances, both. The wood industry has even undertaken the development of a systematized addition for this typology.

Design considerations are something often taken into account with aufstockungen. The largest being to set back the addition from the perimeter of the existing structure. The issue of compatible versus contrasting materials, and whether the addition should complement or clash is a constant topic of debate in Europe–generally this isn’t much of an issue, except for buildings of note. A quick image search (dachausbau or aufstockung can give a pretty good sense of the scope and scale of these projects. Skyscrapercity has a short page on some incredible aufstockungen in Graz. Vienna’s got a ton, one of my favorite’s being Josef Weichenberger Architekten’s Margaretenstrasse 9.

Photos by: Erika Mayer (Josef-Mayburger-Kai 2a; 5020 Salzburg;;

Potential for adoption?

This typology isn’t unheard of in the US–rooftop additions and penthouses are fairly common, though generally reserved for the wealthy. What intrigues me most about these is that in Europe–there is phenomenal diversity of the buildings and tenants–spanning from ultra luxe to social housing. I am guessing a lot of that has to do with smart planning rather than carved out exceptions and loopholes. The German Fire Code for low and mid-rise construction is much less restrictive than the US, and this is further aided by a history of mostly masonry/concrete buildings. Seattle’s older low-rise multifamily buildings outside of downtown are generally wood, and so this would need to be coordinated with the Fire Code. For older buildings that aren’t sprinklered, this could be an opportunity to increase heights for those that undertake sprinkler retrofits. Or better yet, allow another story or two if the owner undertakes a whole building modernization or EnerPHit (Passivhaus retrofit).

There have even been some undertaken in Seattle. The Reedo Building (Elysian Fields) is a good example, although a commercial instead of residential.

Belltown’s 81 vine lofts are another one that stand out. The Washington Shoe Building on Jackson underwent one of sorts, with a 2-storey addition – albeit in 1912.

Another big difference, at least here on the West Coast, is our lovely increased seismic risk over cities like Vienna and Berlin. This could be partially mitigated, at least with wood buildings here in Seattle, with a substantial upgrade of the facade, which is why I’m intrigued by pairing this with Passivhaus retrofits. If you’re already ripping off the facade to add new sheathing for the vertical addition, it would also be a smart time to add exterior insulation (mineral wool) and quality windows. There is a fair amount of precedent for this in Europe, including an exemplary retrofit and addition to a building in Hannover, Germany which saw a whopping 93% reduction in energy usage over the existing building.

Though Aufstockungen aren’t as nifty as new construction, they should be encouraged as an innovative tool to help address the housing shortage. City Council should find a way to creatively allow this typology to take shape, carving out an exception in the Land Use Code if needed for adding units above height limits for existing buildings.

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Posted by & filed under Policy, Politics.

Yes Seattle ParksThis primary election, Seattle voters will answer a question: do we believe that parks and community centers are an essential service, and a priority to receive stable, long-term funding?

It’s a simple question, and a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Seattle Proposition 1 is presented to voters under the predication that yes, in fact, we believe that clean, safe, welcoming parks are a necessity for a growing city. That community centers must be open when they are needed, and receive equitable funding to do the same–not the pay-for-play that we see now. That affordable and relevant programming for youth keeps kids out of trouble, programs for seniors ensure folks can remain active with lifelong recreation, and programs for people with disabilities ensure all residents of our city can participate in making our communities great!

The Seattle Park District is a funding mechanism that dedicates revenue to parks in Seattle, with a focus on addressing the major maintenance backlog, putting in place measures to help in avoiding deferred maintenance in the future, and bringing community center hours and programming as close to 2008 levels as possible. By levying a property tax increase of less than 1%, Proposition 1 puts Seattle in a position to engage in long-term planning, while also being able to respond to immediate needs–things that levies, frankly, do not allow.

The opposition campaign has mastered the fine art of scare tactics. Talking about building landing strips at Cal Anderson Park. Telling people that they will no longer have a vote if there is dedicated funding for parks in Seattle (missing out that the Seattle City Council is not an appointed body). Yammering on about how residents in Seattle just can’t trust our elected officials, or government at all. These tea-party talking points and support for Eymanism (putting essential service budgets up for a vote–funding cities a la carte) is unfortunate. The untrue statements and misrepresentations would be astonishing–until you see that the opposition campaign is funded, in large part, by anti-transit and Republican donors, while utilizing a GOP consultant.

As examples, the biggest contributor is Faye Garneau, at $17.5k, who also was a giver to the No On Transit campaign and recently Forward Seattle. Other notable contributors include Jim Coombes (who gave hefty amounts to Eyman’s Permanent Offense group), Fremont Dock Co. (a regular opponent of completing the Burke-Gilman missing link) and Glenn Avery (also their treasurer), who is the chair of the 36th District Republicans. Combined, these folks alone are 59% of the $37k raised. Their consultant has been Sharon Gilpin, who works with Republican candidates and conservative business interests, and has also been a donor to Eyman causes.

But let’s look at the proposition: Seattle Proposition 1 adopts a series of recommendations made by a group of fifteen Seattle citizens. We came together to look at the revenue structural challenges that we were facing as a city–in light of the Eyman 1% rule and the 2008 recession–and what would be the best option to ensure we left a legacy of clean, safe, welcoming parks that were well cared for, and community centers and programs available to all residents. We looked at levy lid lifts–short, long, and permanent term, a soda tax, a sugar tax, impact fees, and metropolitan park districts, among other, more regressive revenue ideas. Following months of intense work, looking at the needs of our city, and the reality of revenue expectations in light of the State Legislature limiting our options, the best option was a Park District–something even the Municipal League of King County agreed on.

Park levies–like most levies in Seattle–are designed to be capital in nature. From expanding the park system to replacing playgrounds, a levy lid lift is not meant for operations. Washington has a tool to get us out of that cycle, and instead allow Seattle to shift gears and focus on the unglamorous, unsexy needs of parks–boilers, roofs, comfort stations (bathrooms). Providing funding for community centers and affordable recreation programming for all residents. While at the same time being prepared to move the city forward and grow our system in a smart way with growth patterns. The Seattle Park District is that tool.

The opposition campaign against long-term, stable funding for parks in Seattle come to the table with no solutions. The best they come up with is to start the Seattle process all over again, and hope for a different result. Hope that the next group will capitulate to their demands, while ignoring the actual needs of kids in South Park, families in south Beacon Hill, new residents in Lake City, or seniors in Bitter Lake. Ultimately, they just don’t believe that our elected officials should have the tools necessary to actually govern, instead believing that micromanaging budgets by the ballot box is somehow a good idea.

The Stranger summed it up nicely: “[T]his is how the democratic process works: We elect leaders who set taxes and build budgets and fund infrastructure, and when they [mess] it up, we vote them out. Vote ‘for.’”

Michael Maddux was a member of the Parks Legacy Plan Citizen Advisory Committee. He currently serves on the Parks & Green Spaces Levy Oversight Committee, chairs the Endorsements Committee for the King County Democrats, and is a little league umpire. He lives with his daughter in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle.

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Posted by & filed under Housing, Policy.


In order to examine the Incentive Zoning (IZ) Program, the city hired analysts to model some different outcomes based on various assumptions. The analysts were trying to tease out how different structures of the program would affect affordable housing in the city. Ultimately, a 43-page report was published by the analysts to tackle the issues surrounding the city’s IZ program.

The background

The incentive zoning program has been in place since 2001 and affects particular zoned areas in Downtown and South Lake Union. The program is structured so that developers can get certain advantages, such as increased height if they build affordable units in their structure or pay a fee. Over the 13 years since the inception of the program, analysts found that it produced 714 units of affordable housing. Overall, the program makes up 11% of the total funds for affordable housing.

The analysts’ task

To be clear, this is not an analysis of the best way to make housing affordable in Seattle. Instead, this is an analysis of whether or not it is possible to increase the production of affordable housing under the IZ Program–an important distinction. John Scholes who commented on behalf of the Downtown Seattle Association noted that the analysts said it would be difficult to significantly grow the program, and even if it were doubled, it would barely put a dent in the need for affordable housing. In other words, the report shouldn’t be viewed as an attempt to tease out a solution to the affordable housing problem, instead it is only an attempt see potential impacts of the IZ Program.

The surprising findings

The image below forms the basis for most of the report. Essentially, the analysts wanted to tease out different potential returns on development under various scenarios. As an example, the ‘middle scenario’ of low-rise or mid-rise development that doesn’t utilize the incentive zoning programming shows an 18% return. Returns in red indicate development that is unfeasible while those in light green indicate the development is feasible.

The analysts assumed that if the return on development is 5% or more, developments are considered feasible, while those under 5% are not. As you can see, the study indicates that development is feasible under nearly all the different scenarios. In this sense, the study would lead people to believe that fees could be raised on nearly all private development and developers would still make a profit. This implies that they would continue to build housing, but our understanding deepens with the most important finding by the analysts.


In this analysis, the darker green highlights the most preferred type of building. What it shows us is that in nearly all scenarios, the most preferred option is not utilizing the incentive. Regardless of whether or not the numbers are accurate, this shows the logic of developers. It doesn’t matter whether or not they can still be profitable after paying a fee. Instead, it matters what options they are going to choose given the costs of various options.

This basically means that you can’t simply offer incentives to developers, like upzoning, if the costs of those incentives make them less profitable. Specifically, the 6-7 story buildings show the lowest returns and are the only building types that become mostly unfeasible (disregarding whether they are preferable) under the incentive zoning program. In other words the program is most at odds with building types that help walkability, transit, density, environmentalism, lowering the per capita cost of city services, sustainability, and much more.


From these observations, a number of recommendations were made. The analysts were careful not to say that Seattle shouldn’t pursue the IZ program. Instead, they indicated how the money could be used better by by focusing on the right income groups, making sure incentives don’t discourage high-density development, increasing the amount of funding that goes to particular housing types, and more. In addition, the analysts made an unexpected recommendation. They indicated it would be worth studying the impact of converting the program from an incentive zoning program to a linkage fee program. Specifically, the analysts would like the city to commission a Nexus Study to better understand the impacts of linkage fees.


I think the study shows a lot of great work and is exactly the type of effort we need from the city. With that said, I think we can learn a lot about pursuing future studies. There are a number of critical questions left unanswered. If the city pursues the IZ program or decides to study linkage fees, I think it’s important that the following issues are addressed:

  • Are there programs that could have bigger impacts? Council Member Clark acknowledged that the results from this program may seem small, but they are still important. There is no doubt that all affordable housing has real impacts, affecting people with important needs. It is also important to acknowledge that we face opportunity costs. If we spend all our time and effort working on a program with a small impact we may be missing programs or ideas that have much larger impacts. The city has spent nearly equal time studying the IZ program as it has studying numerous alternative options and there are even more programs that haven’t been examined at all. If a better alternative is found, the time, money and housing lost that could have been used studying another program is opportunity costs.
  • How do Incentive Zoning or Linkage Fees affect the larger housing market? It’s fine to tailor a program to raise more money, but the ultimate goal is to lower everyone’s housing costs in addition to ensuring everyone has affordable housing. It is entirely conceivable that increasing the production of affordable housing by one program could consequently negatively affect overall housing costs. In fact, some attendees asserted the study indicated this was already happening.
  • Are these scenarios accurate? There are a lot of assumptions being made. Determining return on investment is fraught with unknowns. It requires guessing future rents, land values, development costs and much more. Additionally, I see some of these numbers extremely skeptically. Indicating 33% return on equity requires further scrutiny. It’s one thing for a model to produce this estimate and entirely different for evidence from actual development to show that.
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Posted by & filed under The View From Nathan's Bus.

Picture 7


A woman in her twenties with a terrific, full-bodied Afro boards, all smiles and legs. It’s nighttime on Capitol Hill during Pride week. The white girls at the front see her walk past, and one almost falls forward as she hollers out,

“Don’t ever ruin your beautiful hair!” 

Meaning, of course, don’t straighten it. The atmosphere is one of Bacchanalian revelry, a Dionysian celebration of the marginalized and unfairly disparaged. Tonight judgment is suspended. I drive slowly through throngs of color and line, shapes and faces and skin all around me. Some of us are sober. I smile, listening to the seesawing lilt of inebriated youngsters just behind me. One of the girls calls out,

“Hey driver!”
“Do you go to like Third and Pike?”
“I go to Third and Pine… d’you wanna go Third and Pine with me?”
“Oh my gosh yes. Will you tell us when you get there?”
“I will so tell you when we get there!”
“You’re so AWESOME!”
“I wish you rode my bus everyday!”

The Afro lady steps out the back, and the girl who spoke earlier screams, “bye, Gorgeous!” Amidst the movement of bodies in the back of the bus I see the glimmer of her teeth forming a big smile, embarrassed but excited.

The girls up front, all in their early twenties, are accompanied by a boy of the same age. Sitting near them is an African-American man of roughly sixty. He and I wear big grins as we listen to the youngsters hold forth:

“I kinda wanna go on Oprah’s show, just so I can get a car or something.”
“You know what’d be funny? If Oprah and T.I. were dating!”
“Oprah and–”
“Is that true, what?”
“Now that’s a power couple!”
“It seems like just a thing T.I. would do for publicity,”
“D’you think Oprah’s hot?”
“Oh shit, my rainbow pop’s falling out.”
“You’ll just have to suck it off.”
“What made you think of Oprah and T.I.?”
“Suck it off, whoo!”

Into the mic I tell the crowd, “All right. This bus is turning into a 7. It’s time to become a route 7, going all the way to Rainier Beach. If you’re going to the Valley tonight, you are on the right bus. Once again, we just became a 7…”

“That’s where we’re going, right? Rainier Beach?”
“No, Alki.”
“Oh. Aren’t those like the same?”
“Slightly different places!” I chime in. “Both great, though!”

“Who do you like more, Oprah or Rosie?” One girl asks another.
“I don’t like Rosie.”
“Wait, Rosa Parks?”
“Rosa Parks is awesome,” I interject.
“Rosa Parks represeeeeent!”
“Can’t nobody hate on Rosa Parks,” says the older black man.
“Fuckin’ love that girl,” says the girl with the collapsing rainbow pop.
“She’s the lady that sat at the back of the bus, right?”
Me: “No, she sat at the front of the bus!”
“I like sitting at the back of the bus.”
“Wait, this is Rosie O’Donnell?”
“No, no,”
“Totally different Rosie,” I quip, and the black man and I can’t help but laugh together. It’s bordering on an inside joke; clearly Rosa Parks means a lot more to he and I than it does for our rambunctious friends. Or maybe we would just express our regard for her differently. But that makes it all the funnier.

“Yeah nobody hates Rosa Parks,” says one of the girls. “She sat down in the front and the cop was like you gotta move, and she was like FUCK THAT!”
“That’s it, word for word, I think!” I say.
“We got da recreation right here! What what!”
“She was all like fuck that, I ain’t movin for shit! You guys better REK-A-NIZE!”
“That’s, I think that’s, yeah, the exact transcription!”

They deboard at the (in)famous McDonalds stop, clearly having no idea where they’re going. I lean out the doors, asking them if they know where they’re headed. I step out to point out the C-Line stop and explain the way to Alki. This prompts one of the girls to say, “thank you.” The other expresses her thanks differently: “You’re hot.” Then she howls, in pleasure and ecstatic pain:


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Posted by & filed under What We're Reading.

Local headlines: Residents of affordable housing in the Central District fear that they could lose their housing due to sale of their building. Pacific Place has traded hands in a recent sales for $271 million, the City-owned garage will stay in City ownership. Washington residents support a new gun control measure on background checks by a long-shot. Developers are building a lot of new housing stock, and they’re doing it with a lot less parking. One third of homes purchased in Capitol Hill are made fully in cash. Ridesharing services are now legal in the City of Seattle. The City is exploring voluntary identification cards for residents. And, Mayor Murray has tapped Cuc Vu as new head of the Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Office.

A jumble of maps: NOAA has a fairly disturbing map of California’s drought from last month, and it probably hasn’t gotten better since. Max Roberts, a subway and map enthusiast, has perfected a modern version of Massimo Vignelli’s famous NYC Subway map. Evidently you can follow the daily trail of New York City’s taxi drivers, in detail. Tableau has come out with free-to-use online software to create your own interactive maps. And, a cool interactive map of the future California High Speed Rail system.

Happening outside of Washington: A new mixed-use and wonderful shared space will be coming to Washington, D.C.’s Southwest neighborhood–this is a good model. Paris is looking to fine commercial property owners that leave their buildings vacant instead of converting the spaces into residential units. Strasbourg doesn’t get much talk, but it is small city with big city infrastructure and design. Apple has started work on their Cupertino spaceship campus, despite the fact that they could have made a more efficient and profitable mixed-use campus for their employees.

Grab bag: In the past few months, Car2Go has been sending out black membership cards to preferred members, and naturally there is speculation on what they’re for. The fleet of vehicles in the US has seen a dramatic, but quiet increase in fuel efficiency for all vehicle types in the past decade. It looks like Alta bikeshare programs will be delayed due to the death of their vendor Bixi earlier this year; however, Seattle will be an exception and rollout on-time. Nikki Sylianteng has come out with her third version of a simple-to-use parking sign. And, NACTO is now recognizing contraflow bicycle lanes as an option for designing streets.

Planning the city: It looks like there wasn’t much headway made by Council Member Mike O’Brien’s Microhousing working group. The final meeting has ended without any strong recommendations or consensus. Dan Bertolet over at City Tank argues that Rainier Beach has a lot of potential as a mixed-use and livable urban center in South Seattle. Bertolet floats his unique vision for this transit paradise and underutilized area. And, bicycle lanes are now a thing on the University Bridge.

National drama continues: Jon Stewart summarizes Congress’s failure to come up with a sustainable funding measure for the national transportation system well, declaring “This is so stupid.” The House Democrats opposed the Republican measure on funding, but went along anyway in the end (although most Republicans voted against their own bill). Of course, Republican Senators are still trying to throw wrenches into Senate’s companion bill.

Local transit: The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) has released a long list of transit-oriented projects for new funding this year. The PSRC acts as a pass-through for Federal transportation dollars. Central Link Light Rail has turned 5 years old, and ridership continues to beat projections. Capitol Hill Seattle Blog spotlights the Metro Route 2 and Metro Route 47, it will be tough to see the workhorse 47 go away. On the plus side, we will be having a city vote to reverse cuts and save Metro service. The fight over where to put the East Link Light Rail maintenance facility in Bellevue continues with no conclusive decision. And, Velo Bus Driver (aka Matt Leber) does a write-up on the future Mercer Island Station.

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Posted by & filed under The View From Nathan's Bus.

Picture 2


Josh is in his late teens, African-American and something else, tall but not too tall. In our youth we sometimes oscillate between dialects, particularly when we have multiple backgrounds. Regional dialects and generational slang can surface on will for people of any age. Lyndon Johnson would speak differently based on who was in front of him, sometimes employing the heavy Texan twang, other times keeping things to a more civilized drawl. When people chat with me, especially younger folks, they’re sometimes not quite sure how formally to style their language. I like when they start out hesitantly but gradually open up, easing back into their normal self. I find myself doing the same.

Josh didn’t bother with any of that, though. He seemed comfortable from the get-go. He first accosted me with: “Yo, how old are you?
“Fifteen,” I deadpanned, checking my blind spots.

We did the conversation where we discover my real age, working through the motions of a well-worn exchange, still enjoyable every time. This time I steered it in the direction of jobs. He asks how long I’ve been at it, when I started, and so on.

“Pay is good?”
“Oh, man.”
“It is not bad.” I remember my first job at the library, where I was thrilled to receive seven dollars and seventy-eight cents– over and over, with each new hour! “I’m never gonna complain about this job. Trying to justify that paycheck, you know?”
“Ah heard dat!”
“Where you work at?”
“I used to work the shipyards, getting’ paid twenty-seven an hour.”
“Wow, hey. Somebody’s getting’ paid.”
“Well, used to. Hey, you know them e-cigarrettes, the vapor ones?”
“Yeah yeah, the electronic things,”
“Are those allowed inside the bus?”
“That’s a good ques-, actually they just changed that. I was talkin’ about that with someone earlier today. It was legal, but now they’re changing it so they’re allowed only where real cigarettes is also allowed. How come, somebody givin’ you beef?”
“Naw, I’s jus’ curious, couple drivers sayin’ different stuff about the rules,”
“Hopefully they just ask you to put it away. You know, there’s so many rules these days. You know how older folks talk about earlier times when there wasn’t as many regulations?”
“I wanna get back to that time.”
“I’m down with Metro, man.”
“You and me both! So, working’ in the shipyards. That’s work.”
“Yeah, I used to do welding-”
“-but I hadta get outta there, man, too many layoffs. Cause I got kids, bro.”
“Okay, so now you lookin’ for something a little more stable.”
“Well, I got one now, I’m at the dispensary.”
“Oh that’s right, right there off Aurora.
“My uncle is a boss there.”
“There you go, helping each other out! Symbiotic relationship!”
“Yup yup! Well, actually iss my girlfriend’s uncle.”
“Oh right on, man. Shoot. Don’t break up wit’ her!”
“Aw no way, dude, never. She pregnant with my baby.”
“That’s a beautiful thing. Makin’ it work.”
“For sure! You always on this one?”
“Same time same place, every day!”
“Coo’. I see you around!”
“You too!”

As he bounced off at Bell Street, gliding over to his next bus, I realized he was the youngster who profanely but wisely counseled the agitated fellow described here. There are times when you realize all the acting, the facades of clothes and cool, are merely a vernacular for youngsters to cope with the impossible business of being an adolescent in the modern age. You realize, as I did listening to Josh’s tone as he mentioned his girlfriend and baby, that there is in fact just as much depth of caring in there, and that over time the facades will peel away like so much dead snakeskin, and they’ll blossom into the good people they always were. Moments like that make me believe in the future.

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Posted by & filed under Plans, Transportation.

Kitsap Transit is seeking public comment on its long awaited restoration of cross-Sound passenger only fast ferry service to Downtown Seattle. Among the three routes under consideration, the most obvious candidate for foot ferry service is Bremerton. The current service between the two cities has the largest proportion of walk-on passengers of any route in the Washington State Ferries network.

Travel time on the Bremerton-Seattle ferry route is about an hour, a commute that is only negligibly shorter than the 65 mile trip over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. A fast (about 35 minutes), convenient ferry ride from downtown Bremerton to Downtown Seattle could serve the dual purposes of revitalizing an urban center in sprawl-plagued Kitsap County while providing relief for the malcontents of skyrocketing Seattle housing prices.

Potential Ferry Routes

Potential routes, courtesy of Kitsap Transit.


The story of how Bremerton lost its fast ferry service is long and sordid. Land owners with property along Rich Passage, the narrow stretch of water that the ferries must pass through on their journey, have been suing ferry operators over alleged shoreline erosion since the early 20th century. After years of research, development, and environmental studies, Kitsap Transit is set to finally bring back convenient cross-Sound foot ferry service to Downtown Seattle using a low wake vessel purchased several years ago with Federal grant money.

There is, of course, already ferry service available for foot passengers to Bremerton aboard the Washington State Ferries route. In its current form, the trip is about an hour long in each direction. The difference between 35 minutes and an hour for each direction of a commute to work is significant. 35 minutes is about as long as a weekday morning bus ride to Downtown Seattle from Ballard. Reducing the commuting time between Seattle and downtown Bremerton could have transformative effects on the city, a once thriving industrial and urban center that has been hollowed-out by sprawling development in Silverdale to the north.


The Rich Passage I, a low wake passenger-only ferry designed for the Bremerton crossing, courtesy of The Kitsap Sun.

The data and opportunity at hand

In a recent study, MIT researchers demonstrated that the distribution of commute times for a given metropolitan area is fairly constant across modes of travel, and is largely unaffected by changes in commute distance or in population growth. The study provides more evidence supporting the fact that people change their habits as transportation modes are expanded. It also suggests that the existence of something like a localized form of Marchetti’s constant, a theoretical limit on daily travel time that remains relatively constant at around one-hour for all societies. The mean commuting time for Seattle is around 25 to 30 minutes each direction, and varies between 20 and 20 minutes across most metropolitan areas in the United States.

When a city adds transit capacity that reduces the commute time for a neighborhood below the threshold time people are willing to spend traveling each day, it has essentially expanded the boundaries of its housing stock for a large number of residents. In the case of a Bremerton foot ferry, this would result in the addition of a significant amount of affordable housing. Zillow lists the median home value for Bremerton as $190,900. A quick search reveals that there are over 200 homes currently for sale for less than $350,000 within about a 10-minute bike ride of the Bremerton ferry terminal.

While the problem of affordable housing in Seattle won’t be solved with a passenger ferry, residents on both sides of the Puget Sound should see the restoration of convenient ferry service as a hugely positive development. A passenger ferry has the added benefit of spurring pedestrian activity around the terminal. And, Bremerton is a city desperately in need of pedestrian activity. If public officials provide reliable ferry service and allow smart development to occur in the city’s downtown core, there is a potential for the kind of walkable, transit-oriented development that has been missing from the west side of the Puget Sound for decades, since the days of the Mosquito Fleet.


Passenger ferries departing Colman Dock circa 1912, public domain.


There are two other possible routes under consideration, from Kingston and from Southworth. Neither of these routes has anywhere near the potential ridership of a Bremerton route, which would provide service to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the largest employer in Kitsap County. And, neither Southworth nor Kingston has the same potential as Bremerton for creating a walkable urban center.

If you are a cross-Sound commuter, or if you care about expanding options for transit and affordable housing in the region, send an email to and tell them. In your email, make it clear that the Bremerton route is clearly the best choice for what will hopefully just be the first of more passenger-only ferries returning to the Puget Sound.

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Posted by & filed under Video.

Transit-Protected Bike Lane In Action In San Francisco by Michael Andersen on YouTube.

We already have some of these “floating” transit islands that protect bikes by allowing cyclists. These islands give cyclists a buffer between platform and sidewalk so that they smoothly bypass in-street transit. Where are these in Seattle? Right on Dexter Avenue N, and SDOT has considered other locations for the future.

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I-5 lid study area, via The Northwest Urbanist.

Put a lid on it: Scott Bonjukian takes another look at covering I-5 with a lid.

Climate controlled: Dubai has plans for a the world’s first fully climate controlled city.

Bike lanes on 2nd Ave: Protected bike lanes are likely to arrive just in time for the launch of Pronto!

Giant blob: The Jersey Shore’s got a massive blob of algae blooming off its coast.

Federal funding drama: The House and Senate inch closer to solving the transportation fiscal cliff, but they have a ways to go. Of course, all approaches of the feds are less than ideal, but Oregon is a good model for the future.

New BAT lanes: Pike Street quietly gets some new BAT lanes. Hopefully this means faster bus service!

Big old hole: Yeah, you’ve probably seen that big gaping hole in Downtown at 4th Ave and Cherry St, and there’s no guarantee that it’s going away anytime soon. But a land value tax would likely make it develop quickly.

Legal pot: Marijuana is now legal for sale, and it’s quite expensive.

Post-apocalyptic Detroit: The city is on a rebound, and many think it’s time to invest. However, the city could lose some of its precious artwork.

Gentrification segregation: As the US continues to gentrify, it’s largely happens along the lines of education which leads to wealth.

We want it more: Homeless advocates are still trying to acquire the Federal building in Downtown and push the Seattle Public Schools out of consideration.

Sand Point Crossing: Seattle Subway makes the case for a different cross-lake option, this one via Sand Point to Kirkland.

7th Ave bikeway: The Puget Sound Regional Council is recommending federal funding for a 7th Avenue bikeway.

Musical references: People love to sing about New York City, and luckily there’s a map of all the places they’ve sung about in popular music.

Saving Metro: The Seattle City Council is still considering two options to save Metro, and it has until August to do so.

Scared of biking: People are often scared of biking in traffic, but these cities are showing the way to make it safer.

A report card on Denver: Zach over at the Seattle Transit Blog gives a great transit report card on his experience in Denver.

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