What We’re Reading: Northgate Link Opening, Hoboken’s Vision, and TDM


Northgate Link opening: Sound Transit has announced that the Northgate Link extension will open on October 2nd ($).

E Union St: In Capitol Hill, E Union St will get protected bike lanes this month.

Keeping the fountain: A project to keep the water fountain at Cal Anderson Park intact will move forward.

Bike the Columbia: I-205 over the Columbia River has a bike lane right in the middle of the highway.

Bad for climate: With the pandemic still going, transit ridership remains and is very much a bad thing for climate impacts ($).

Housing near transit: Sightline looks at how an Oregon bill focused on housing near transit could make better use of transit infrastructure, but the bill was controversial and died.

Hostile architecture: Some hostile architecture has been put in place by the library in Ballard.

Unserious trolls: Republicans in Congress are planning to release “climate” policy proposals, but the it’s not clear how they can even be classified as such.

The Gateway project: The Biden administration is speeding up environmental review for the cross-Hudson Gateway rail project in New York and New Jersey.

Hoboken’s vision: What is the story behind Hoboken’s Vision Zero efforts and three years of no fatalities?

HUD’s plans: The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has a new annual budget requests that would add billions in important housing investment categories ($).

No more freeways: In Oregon, advocates are suing to stop a frivolous I-5 highway expansion in Portland.

Fireside chat: Our Senior Editor Ryan Packer talks with Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog about the biggest stories Ryan covered in the past few months while filling in for Tom.

The 72-hour rule: Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants to stop restoration the “72-hour rule” for on-street parking.

Free transit: Charlottesville is planning use federal recovery dollars on three years of free transit.

Solar panel canals: A study in California looks at how large fresh water canals could incorporate solar panels for energy production.

Fighting Covid: Seattle received 30,000 doses of vaccine this week and Lumen Field had its busiest vaccination day yet on Wednesday.

Reopened: Brooklyn Ave NE reopened in the University District after years of closures for light rail construction.

TDM: Denver wants developers to help contribute to reduced driving through transportation demand management plans.

Wall Street housing: A debate is brewing about housing and institutional investors.

Threatened public space: Three months after the January 6th insurrection orchestrated by the former treasonous president, are public spaces in Washington, D.C. making a comeback?

On the agenda: With the upcoming Seattle elections, voters will have an opportunity to weigh in on whether or not to defund the police.

New againn: At Hanford, next generation nuclear energy production could be on the way ($).

Malls are dying: A massive Los Angeles mall has gone up for sale and community wants to buy it to drive redevelopment. Meanwhile, a major Phoenix has closed and is up for significant mixed-use redevelopment.

Congestion and falalities: What’s the relationship between traffic deaths and congestion?

E-scooters and transit: Greater Greater Washington argues that e-scootershare programs should work with transit.

Long live the city: A lot of ink has been spilled on remote work and death of the city, but it’s probably all significantly overstated.

B Line greenlit: Denver’s B Line commuter rail extension to Longmont and Boulder has been greenlit.

SDOT Nearing End of Early Design with Route 40 Improvement Concepts

A green and yellow Route 40 with Fremont displayed on its screen with downtown towers in background.
A Route 40 bus in downtown heads to Fremont. (Credit: SDOT)

Route 40 upgrades could be on the horizon. King County Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have been working on the Route 40 Transit+ project, which could bring right-of-way improvements to the corridor, speeding up buses and improving reliability. SDOT has developed a variety of conceptual street enhancements, tabbed for several sections of the corridor in Westlake, Fremont, Ballard, and Greenwood based upon feedback from the public and operators. Improvements could reduce travel times by 5% to 10% during peak times.

A map showing portions of the Route 40 corridor that are a focus for right-of-way improvements.
A map showing portions of the Route 40 corridor that are a focus for right-of-way improvements.

Westlake improvements

In Westlake, street layout changes are being considered on Westlake Ave N between 9th Ave N and the Fremont Bridge. The 1.5-mile stretch of street would be modified by putting a bus-only lane in each direction on the four-lane street. To support access, four new concrete pads could be added at southbound bus stops. Other possible improvements include a new southbound left-turn lane for buses only at the Westlake Ave N and Valley St/Roy St intersection and a southbound queue jump at the N Highland Dr intersection. SDOT notes that these changes would provide “reduced transit travel times and improved reliability in both directions, especially northbound following bridge opening events.”

  • Improvement considered for the Westlake Ave N and Valley St/Roy St intersection. (City of Seattle)
  • Conceptual rechannelization and existing street layout of Westlake Ave N. (City of Seattle)

Columbia River Interstate Bridge Replacement: What’s It Replacing?

A rendering showing the Columbia River Crossing project at Hayden Island. (WSDOT)

When Governor Jay Inslee held a press conference with Washington State Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar and other area officials at the Lake Washington Ship Canal in March, one word was emphasized: maintenance. “We need to make the investments first, and I emphasize first, in maintenance of our existing transportation system”, Inslee said, calling maintenance “woefully underfunded” in Washington.

In 2019, WSDOT estimated that there was an annual gap of $690 million between funding available for maintenance and the amount the state would need to spend to maintain a state of good repair on its state highways. This is around 20% of the department’s annual budget of $3.6 billion per year — filling that gap would mean more than doubling the amount currently spent on maintenance, around $550 million.

Neither of the two funding packages currently being discussed in the House and Senate Transportation Committees would fully close that gap despite the fact it may be the state’s last chance: if the funding levels for maintenance stay at current levels, the cost to repair the roadways later could triple. Instead, both packages would spend more on new highway projects rather than on maintaining existing ones.

But there’s one project that both packages made sure to include: the “replacement” of the I-5 bridge between Washington and Oregon. This project continues to be lumped in with the state’s deferred maintenance backlog. But there’s actually no design for the project yet, and all signs point to a carbon copy of the failed Columbia River Crossing project which was (allegedly) cancelled in 2013. That project was far from a replacement for an aging bridge structure.

A rendering from the Columbia River Crossing project (WSDOT)

Columbia River Crossing 2.0

The Interstate Bridge Replacement, as the new iteration is called, looks like a brand new project. It has a flashy new website. New groups have been assembled to provide input into what the project will look like: an Executive Steering Group, made up of representatives of public agencies and governments around the project area; a Community Advisory Group, which includes voices for different regional interests; and the Equity Advisory Group, which includes voices who will ensure the project centers equity. But materials have noted that the project office will “leverage past work as appropriate to ensure effective and efficient decision making that includes new data and public input,” and the project team wants to work fast and get this project approved.

Metro Begins East Link Bus Restructure Process Affecting 42 Routes

Second Avenue in Downtown Seattle. (Photo by author)
Suburb-bound buses line up on Second Avenue in Downtown Seattle. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

With the arrival of light rail on the Eastside soon, King County Metro is beginning a process to restructure bus service to better integrate with East Link and Downtown Redmond Link. The bus restructure could affect some 42 routes that operate on and from the Eastside and near the new Judkins Park Station in Seattle. On the Eastside, cities as far north, south, and east as Bothell, Renton, and Duvall are a part of the Phase 1 Study Area. The initial phase of the study is a survey of riders and residents who could be affected by any bus network changes.

Routes in the study are both Metro and Sound Transit services that operate near future light rail stations or overlap light rail corridors. Some services like local Routes 230 and 240 are not included in the study since they will be unaffected by the introduction of light rail. This also applies to some I-405 bus routes and flexible mobility services. However, the 42 bus routes under review for changes, include Routes 8, 111, 114, 167, 204, 212, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 221, 224, 225, 226, 232, 237, 240, 241, 245, 246, 249, 250, 252, 257, 268, 269, 271, 311, 342, 541, 542, 544, 545, 550, 554, 555, 556, 630, 930, and 931 as well as the RapidRide B Line.

  • Routes on the Eastside that part of the bus restructure study area. (King County)
  • Routes in Seattle that part of the bus restructure study area. (King County)

A concern that might be pressing to riders and policymakers is whether or not the Eastside bus restructure may emulate the Northgate Link bus restructure. The restructure eliminated Route 41 and largely moved its service hours out of the service area. Route 41 operated from Northgate to Downtown Seattle via I-5 essentially mimicking the express nature of the Northgate Link Extension to Downtown Seattle. The implication there is that a net sum of service hours were pulled out rather than reinvested in the service area, leaving fewer service hours to do the critical work with in improving local bus service.

On the other hand, those hours may get a higher return in terms of ridership or advancing Metro’s equity goals if they are not strictly limited to the study area. In the pandemic era, bus ridership has been relatively weak on the Eastside and remained strongest in Southeast King County, where more service workers and transit-dependent populations tend to live as opposed to largely office workers.

Amazon’s Warehouse Plans Have No Place in Mount Baker and Should Be Halted

The Lowe's site is near Mount Baker Station and suited to transit-oriented development. (Image by JLL)

Amazon is planning a distribution center at a coveted site in Mount Baker, Brian Miller of the Daily Journal of Commerce reported Tuesday. Despite zoning allowing 145-foot towers and top notch transit that includes nearby access to Mount Baker Station, plans envision a low-slung warehouse and a colossal parking lot. Simply put, this plan must be stopped.

The plans span two sites on the east side of Rainier Avenue S — a Pepsi plant and Lowe’s superstore. The Lowe’s site alone is almost 13 acres in size and could host almost five million square feet of development built out to capacity (floor area ratio (FAR) tops out at 8.25 including bonuses for affordable housing and open space). Developed primarily as housing, this could work out to more than 4,000 apartments, many of them multi-bedroom homes next to a new open space amenity. The Pepsi site is 10 acres and zoned to 75 feet (5.5 FAR — it’s just outside the station overlay district or this would rise to 6.0), which works out to 2.4 million square feet of developable space and could add another 2,000 apartments or more. Instead of a sprawling warehouse and parking lots, these sites could be 6,000 homes housing 12,000 people or more.

The warehouse proposal is at odds the City’s comprehensive and neighborhood planning and hopes for transit-oriented development near Mount Baker Station (and also within a 15-minute walk of the soon-to-open Judkins Park Station). The City added a section about the Lowe’s site into municipal code trying to limit uses and established a station overlay district to further promote density and walkability with a midblock crossing. Warehouses are not a permitted use in the station overlay district, but Amazon must think they can get an exception. When the City chose to upzone the Lowe’s site to 145 feet — 50 feet higher than anywhere else in Mount Baker Urban Village or nearly all of South Seattle — they did so hoping somebody would actually build highrises there. Instead, the property owners (the families of David Hsiao and Leonard Tall) are trying to make a quick buck selling to Amazon at the expense of the community who lives nearby or would like to.

Disrupting safe streets plans

And the impact on the neighborhood could be severe. The City has pledged to make Mount Baker more accessible and safe for pedestrians, not less. The project is called Accessible Mount Baker after all. Adding a massive distribution center in what should be the bustling mixed-use heart of Mount Baker jeopardizes those plans and adds traffic rather than calming it. The Accessible Mount Baker vision was to “untie” the convoluted intersection of Rainier Avenue and MLK Way and shunt freight and commuter traffic onto MLK Way in order to calm Rainier Avenue and make the street a more walkable, safe, inviting place. More of a destination and less of a cut-through. Historically, Rainier Avenue has been known as the deadliest road in town, regularly competing with Aurora Avenue as the site of most deadly crashes.

Pre-application site plan for the Lowe’s site shows a whole lot of parking. (Credit: Kimley Horn)

The proposal calls for a curb cut on Rainier Avenue emptying the giant parking lot onto a busy corridor with people walking, rolling, biking, and on transit trying to compete for space with motorists. Route 7 is supposed to achieve RapidRide status (eventually) and a busy trucking interchange where a bus lane should go is a terrible idea. A giant parking lot undermines efforts by safe streets advocates to improve station access to Judkins Park Station. Adding a curb cut on a major transit corridor across pedestrian overlays contradicts the Land Use Code and the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections Director Nathan Torgelson could (and should) reject this aspect of the proposal outright.

Costing us affordable housing

The undersized proposal also would cost the city in affordable housing payments via the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) inclusionary zoning program. At the sites, the residential MHA requirement is $15.36 per square foot (or 6% of the units) and the commercial is $8.29 per square foot. Seven million square feet of housing would pay $107 million into the affordable housing trust fund or add about 360 affordable homes on-site.

An MHA zoning map shows SM-NR 145 zoning at the Lowe's site and C2-75 zoning at the Pepsi site.
Mount Baker zoning tops out at 145 feet at the Lowe’s city and tapers quickly. (City of Seattle)

In contrast, Amazon’s proposal repurposes the existing building on the Pepsi site and adds a 68,000 square foot structure to the Lowe’s site. The copious surface parking is exempt from MHA and so too apparently is the structure since it can claim an industrial use rather than commercial one. Industrial uses are exempt from MHA. Thus, both of Amazon’s proposal would pays zero into MHA and would have paid just $564,000 into the affordable housing trust fund had MHA-Commercial applied. This industrial loophole, by the way, sets up a very uneven playfield where Amazon’s distribution centers are exempt from affordable housing contributions while the brick and mortar business they’re competing with would have to pay in when they develop property.

This massive underuse of the site will result is far fewer affordable homes in the neighborhood. Many urbanists are skeptical when defenders of apartment bans use buildable lands reports to argue enough housing capacity already exists, and this story is a perfect illustration of why. Capacity for thousands of homes is no sure thing, but it may still count on a buildable lands report because technically someday housing developers could build there. Tenants don’t have that kind of time to wait for more housing.

New Bellevue and Woodinville Eastrail Segments Anticipated to Open in 2021

Cross Kirkland Corridor (Courtesy of the City of Kirkland)

Underway in the Eastside is an effort to unify isolated railway-turned trails into a regionally unrivaled trail. Named Eastrail in 2019, the planned trail network could eventually create an uninterrupted 42-mile trail — more than double the Burke-Gilman Trail — connecting Renton and Snohomish via Bellevue, Kirkland, and Woodinville. A branch will also connect Redmond, and a few of the East Link and Downtown Redmond Link stations expected to open in 2023 and 2024.

The overlap between Eastrail and East Link. (Courtesy of King County)
The overlap between Eastrail and East Link. (Courtesy of King County)

A bit over a decade ago now, Eastrail’s or the then Eastside Rail Corridor’s footprint was all railbed. Only in 2009 did the Port of Seattle and King County purchase the corridor from BNSF Railway, and soon after interested cities began to purchase their respective segments of the corridor. Kirkland and Redmond acted first, acquiring their fractions of trail and improving them. Kirkland has improved a 5.75-mile part of Eastrail, known as the Cross Kirkland Corridor, that opened in 2015. Redmond purchased their fraction in 2010, and phased out improvements over five stages. Phase I and II of the Redmond Central Connector (RCC) were finished in 2013 and 2017, connecting Downtown Redmond up to the PSE Powerline Trail. The remaining phases are still in planning and seeking full funding.

Redmond Central Connector. (Courtesy of Berger Partnership)
Redmond Central Connector. (Courtesy of Berger Partnership)

Incoming Improvements

The first Eastrail improvement to come in 2021 is the 2.5-mile improvement by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) expected to be complete in May. The interim trail segment between Renton and Bellevue is being improved as a part of the unfortunate project to widen I-405 between Renton and Bellevue. This section of the interim gravel trail that opened in 2018 will become a 12-foot paved trail with gravel shoulders, improvements to the rest of the interim trail that extends down to Gene Coulon Park are forthcoming. A second phase of this WSDOT improvement will build a trail bridge over I-405 in Bellevue, which is expected to be completed in 2023 with the Wilburton Trestle.

The 2.5-mile improvement to interim Eastrail Trail. (Courtesy of WSDOT)
The 2.5-mile improvement to interim Eastrail Trail. (Courtesy of WSDOT)

The other 2021 Eastrail improvement is expected to be completed up in Woodinville this summer. This improvement mostly expands on Kirkland’s Cross Kirkland Corridor by reaching up to its northern neighbor, and completes the Willows Road Regional Trail Connection in preparation for the remainder of the Redmond Central Connector to open. These improvements mostly just involve removing railroad rails, and in Woodinville it’ll only continue up to NE 145th where the City is expected to build a new trail crossing to allow connections to the Sammamish River Trail.

Metro Connects Update Could Illuminate Path to RapidRide Buildout

RapidRide branding means red buses, but it also means higher frequency, off-board payment, all-door payment, bus shelters, and stop re-balancing to speed the bus. (Doug Trumm)

Metro Connects is poised to be updated this year, extending the long-range plan out another 10 years to 2050. Changes under reviewed would add additional corridors as potential RapidRide Lines and expanded and upgrade frequent, local, and express service. The update process will also adjust the interim network period, extending it beyond 2025. Funding for the program, however, has yet to materialize and has been significantly delayed due to the pandemic — though recent rounds of federal financial assistance may change the situation. Nevertheless, cutbacks were made in the fall as part of the biennial county budget.

Those cutbacks included an alphabet soup of delayed capital projects. Metro deferred the RapidRide K Line (Bellevue-Kirkland), RapidRide R Line (Rainier), and part of the RapidRide J Line (Roosevelt), focusing instead on completing just three lines over the next several years. Those cuts expanded on 2018 cuts that saw Seattle’s RapidRide plans for Route 40, Route 44 and Route 48 were downgraded to lesser improvements, though they remain in long-term plans. RapidRide Lines that will still advance include the H Line (Delridge), G Line (Madison), and I Line (Kent, Renton, and Auburn). Originally, Metro had envisioned a larger set of RapidRide projects over the decade, but those had already been pared back over costs and uncertainty.

Nevertheless, Metro is looking ahead with the Metro Connects updates. Key elements are the interim network and 2050 network updates. The interim network updates are focused on changing alignments and frequencies based upon new information, addressing equity gaps in the plan, and revising the RapidRide network. The updates also take into account changes since the last interim network plan and new time horizon. As for the 2050 network, it too takes into account most of the same considerations as it pushes the full Metro Connects plan out another 10 years.

In the slider below, the current interim (2025) network and 2040 network can be compared to the draft versions of the new interim network and 2050 network plans.

  • Current 2025 interim network. (King County)
  • Draft interim network. (King County)
  • Current 2050 network. (King County)
  • Draft 2040 network. (King County)

While much of the plans are the same, there are some new ideas for even more local, frequent, express, and RapidRide corridors than the current plan versions. Metro has also indicated that some mangled alignments for corridors could be untied, which could mean more legible and useful service.

Gaslighter: When A Climate Commitment Act Is Not Climate Action (Op-ed)

A forest engulfed in flames.
The State of Washington predicts forest fires will become increasingly common due to climate change. (Credit: Forest Service NW)

I love numbers.

I was raised by my single mother, a public school teacher and math specialist to love numbers and data, something I still carry with myself today. It shows up in various ways in my life: geometric patterns in my designs, being the first volunteer in a group to calculate a split check (pre-Venmo), and of course, the policy I write. This is why when I organize, even if I see that a number of the groups I normally follow the lead on come out strongly against a proposed policy, there are times where I find myself — like a number of our electeds seem to be — skeptical if what I’m being told is actually the truth. Could a policy named “The Climate Commitment Act” (SB 5126), a cap-and-trade bill, really be that bad? The Climate Commitment Act in its current form is 58 pages long and like any piece of legislation on the environment extremely technical, but I decided to go over the data and put it against my own “sound climate policy” test:

  1. Will this policy actively reduce emissions?
  2. Will this policy disproportionately help frontline communities?
  3. Will this policy effectively achieve all of its goals?

Let’s look at the numbers.

Wait, what even is “cap-and-trade?”

To start, a cap-and-trade system is a method of reducing carbon emissions (a.k.a. pollution) by establishing a “cap” or maximum amount of emissions that can occur over a period of time, allowing polluting businesses under the cap to then sell their (potential) additional emissions to other businesses for a price per ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). Those emitting above the cap pay a fine on the amount they go over, and over time the cap becomes lower and lower, meaning the price for a set amount of pollution in the market (called credits, allotments, or allowances) may rise higher, too.

For our baseline numbers, the most recent emissions numbers put the current total of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Washington to be 99.6 million-metric tons (MMT) of CO2e* (*equivalent). The current goal set by the state legislature is to have a 45% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. This would be 49.8 MMT of CO2e, or a 50% reduction from our 2018 levels, according to the Washington State Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory 1990-2018.

Will this policy reduce emissions towards our target?

No, and if anything emissions will go up in the short-term, not down.

To start, the implementation date of January 1, 2023 is not true for all industries. This date marks the start of the “first compliance period” (2023-2026), which is followed by a “second period” (2027-2030). The intent of this is to phase in some industries that are heavy polluters and would have to purchase a huge amount of credits and be overly-cost burdened. Some of these delays are fairly straightforward and make sense from an economic perspective: