Monday, 18 February, 2019

Compromising Won’t Help Get to $15 Now

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patbullhorn
Attribution: Photo by 15now.org

It’s the dog days of a Seattle winter, and tempers are growing short. The initial enthusiasm for a $15 an hour minimum wage remains strong, but it has been joined by a more contentious hashing out of the details of how we get there—and who is included. 68% of Seattle voters have indicated they support a $15/hr wage floor. More specifically, they support getting there as soon as possible, and covering as many workers as possible without exclusions or loopholes.

Raising the wage is clearly popular. But it’s not easy. As the prospect of a $15/hr wage looms, concerns are being voiced by small businesses such as Elliott Bay Books, afraid it will force them to close their doors. Those concerns are causing some supporters of a higher wage, sympathetic to these local retailers, to call for compromise even if it means excluding large swaths of working Seattle. After all, good urbanism includes a strong base of locally owned businesses.

It’s an understandable reaction. Yet it is still wrong. Fighting for a higher wage is about more than battling large corporations and hesitant elected leaders. It’s also about taking on nearly 40 years of right-wing economic dogma that is largely responsible for stagnating wages in the first place. The notion that workers’ wages must suffer for business to thrive is a false one, but after four decades of it being pounded into American minds by relentless right-wing messaging, even progressive Democrats have come to believe it is true.

It’s also about taking on flawed notions of how we make policy in America. Seattle in particular has a strange fetish for technocracy, driven by the long-term weakness of the extreme right statewide, a strong tradition of liberal Democrats in Western Washington, and a city government that is largely honest and free of corruption. Those factors notwithstanding, policy is made here the same way it is everywhere else – through negotiations, mobilizing your supporters, and running campaigns to get as close as you can to your desired goal, even if you have to make a few deals along the way.

Together, the hoary notion that higher wages undermine small business, and the idea that policy-making requires compromise up front, make raising everyone’s wage more difficult than it needs to be. I want to suggest some ways out of this dilemma that can help Seattle assert national leadership in building a more equal economy for everyone. 

Sunday Funday: Mini Metro

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Mini Metro

Fellow transit nerds, behold a new and brilliantly addicting web-based* game just for you. Mini Metro, inspired by the London Underground and New York City Subway networks, gives you the power to manage your own subway. At first glance, the game may not appear deeply sophisticated, but it is quite dynamic. Players are presented with constant decision points: expansion or contraction of subway lines, additional train capacity, new tunnels, bigger train stations. The ultimate goal of the game is to move as many passengers as possible quickly and efficiently along the subway network.

Mini Metro
Image by the author.

Key elements for game play:

  • Station Nodes—Stations range in type and quality: square, triangle, circle, and special stations. Passengers appear at stations and must be move to a station that matches their symbol. Stations that become too congested will have a countdown circle appear. Congestion must be alleviated before the countdown expires, otherwise the game ends. Station capacity upgrades are offered later in the game.
  • Subway Lines—At the start of the game, you can only develop three subway lines. Luckily, these can be rerouted at will to meet changing needs of your network. Subway lines can be interlined, tunnelled under water, and circular.
  • Trains—Trains travel from end to end of a subway line, except on circular lines where they loop. There are upgrade options to increase train speed and capacity during the game.
  • Game Time—As game time progresses, new passengers and stations are generated. Upgrades are offered at the end of each full week. These upgrades are integral to capacity.

If you become hooked on the game, Greater Greater Washington has some great strategies to game play that may be helpful.

*Developers of Mini Metro plan to launch the game for tablets and computers in the next few months.

Picker’s Remorse

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Read more stories from the bus at nathanvass.com.

“Whuhjjoo pick?” What’d you pick? It’s the question we operators all ask each other, right after “Pick-” that thrice-yearly event in which we have an opportunity to choose a different route. It’s all terribly exciting, and not unlike a total job change- you might be in a different part of the county, with different coworkers and passengers, shifting your schedule to accomodate new hours or days off…. I was at the 4 terminal at Center Park, and eagerly asked the question of Keith, the driver of the bus in front of me. We’re both from LA. Warm sunlight held on our faces, glancing through the burgeoning leaves of late Spring.

“I picked 7s,” Keith announced. He sounded disappointed. Oh no, I thought. Was I hearing a little of the old Picker’s Remorse?

With buyer’s remorse, hopefully you can go back and return your item. Picker’s Remorse is a little more extreme, because what you pick for the shake-up cannot be changed. It is binding. Sometimes you feel it moreso precisely because of this permanence, even if you’re not actually sure how bad the work will really be. I like Keith, and I didn’t want him feeling the weight of the old P.R. When you feel the Remorse, you see everything through a damp lens. He’s at heart a positive guy to begin with, and without really thinking about it, I naturally wanted to steer him back to himself.

I said, truthfully, “man, I wish I coulda picked 7s!”
“I always see you smilin’ always on that 7.”
“I love that thing. The 7 in summertime, that’s one o’ my favorites. Back and forth on Rainier Avenue, stays light out in the evenings, nice big Breda, takin’ the workin’ people home, movin’ the people around… it gets hot though.”
“Yeah it does. It be burnin’!”
“It bakes. But it’s like, it’s one a those things we’re gonna tell our grandkids, you know, like, ‘when Aaahh was young the bus was a hundred degrees!'”

Something awakens in him in that moment. He registers a sea change, a new perspective smiling out: “Yeah! yeah, you’re right!”
“Is’ part a the journey, you know, we all goin’ through these parts a life,”
“Yeah yeah. I dig it. See man, you got the attitu.'”
“Aw, I don’t know. It’s just part ‘ of that journey, you know how you hear the old folks talk about back in the day… and right now today, this is our time!” Today’s complaints will be tomorrow’s nostalgia. How’s that for bizarre human nature? “And we got to enjoy it today, you know?”
“Yeah man, them old folks, they went through some stuff, man, I’m tellin’ ya. Some uh these young folks nowadays,”
“Got to look out for the elders.”

“Check this out,” he continued. “It’d be this old lady ride up with me every time I do the 2, goin’ up Queen Anne area. Her name was Miss Bonnie, and we’d get to talkin,’ she always be on there, and I got to know her a little bit. And she always take a long time get on the bus, she had her walker, carrying her groceries, everything. And one day she be getting on and her wallet falls out. And out comes a roll of hundred dollar bills.”
“What?”
“No joke, came right outta her wallet, fell on the floor. Five, six, seven hundred dollar bills.”
“Right there on the floor.”
“Yeah. and you know whuh she said? She said excuse me, I think I dropped some bills. And I put my hands in the air said it’s okay Miss Bonnie, I’m gonna get that for you, you go ‘head get yourself situated. We got you covered in here. And I picked up the bills and she sat down and I gave the bills back to her. She trusted me to do that! You think that would go down between two a these young folks today?”

I can’t give up hope. “The thing is though, there will always be old people tha’s rude, old people that’s polite, young people that’s rude, young people that’s polite. For me, I get so excited when the young folks are polite. Sure, it don’t happen all the time, but it does happen.”
“Oh yeah!”
“And that moves me, man! It does somethin’ inside. Cause those kids are the future.”
“Man, iss been a pleasure rappin wit’ you. I got to go get in this number 4 here.”
“It’s gonna be a beautiful night!”
“Yeah it is! Always!”

A Call To Action For The Washington Housing Trust Fund

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Advocacy in Olympia 2014This is a guest post provided by Erika Malone from Homestead Community Land Trust, an organization working to provide permanently affordable home ownership in Seattle. If you have questions about these issues or if you’d like to learn more about what they do, you can find information here.

If you rent, own or hope to own a home in the Seattle area, you know that housing costs can be a huge burden, particularly for families. One Seattle couple, Paul and Noni, realized exactly how difficult it is to find affordable housing when they had their daughter. The basement one-bedroom they were renting in Beacon Hill was fine for when it was just the two of them, but with one-year-old Gwen crawling around the place, they needed more space and wanted stability for their daughter. Even working two jobs, Paul knew he couldn’t afford to rent a 2-bedroom—let alone buy any size home—in Seattle. When he came across a listing for a home he could afford to buy on Craigslist, it seemed too good to be true.

It wasn’t; when they met with Homestead Community Land Trust, they learned that they actually could buy a home, even in Seattle, and pay about what they were already spending on rent. Just over a year after buying a three-bedroom home in Columbia City, Paul and Noni love knowing they’ll get to watch Gwen grow up in their house, make friends with the neighborhood kids and even go to middle school right down the street. This wouldn’t be possible without Homestead’s affordable homeownership programs. Homestead needs the state’s Housing Trust Fund, which is critical in making it possible to create affordable housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families in Seattle. And now Homestead and other programs that rely on the Housing Trust Fund need your support.

Homestead Community Land Trust is one of the many nonprofit organizations that rely on the Housing Trust Fund to create and maintain affordable housing for these families. Homestead’s work focuses on affordable homeownership: by bringing homes into the affordable housing stock and stewarding the permanent affordability of affordable homes, Homestead makes it possible for modest income families—teachers, health care workers, social service and nonprofit employees and more—to achieve their homeownership dreams. Our work doesn’t stop there, Homestead continues to work with homeowner’s to ensure their success and ensures that homes stay affordable even when they are sold by the original buyers.

Throughout our history, the Housing Trust Fund has been one of the most significant resources for Homestead to acquire homes and make sure they will remain permanently affordable. But the Housing Trust Fund doesn’t just support Homestead. It funds homes all over the state and all along the continuum of need, from community-stabilizing homeownership programs like ours, to emergency shelters and housing for people leaving homelessness, to low-cost rental homes for the lowest-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Plus, housing is a huge economic driver for our region—each dollar in the Housing Trust Fund leverages four- to five-times that much economic activity!

The state legislature determines how much to invest in the Housing Trust Fund every year. The legislature is meeting right now to finalize a budget. We’re disappointed that neither of the Supplemental Capital Budget’s passed by the House and Senate last week invest in the Housing Trust Fund at a level that will ensure Washington has enough affordable homes.

With less than two weeks left (session is scheduled to end on March 13), now is the time to tell your representatives that you want them to do better and make a more significant investment in affordable homes. Please show your support for Homestead and for people struggling to afford homes in Seattle and across the state by calling the Legislative Hotline and leaving a message for your legislators and the Governor asking them to increase funding for affordable housing.

It’s easy and will take less than 2 minutes. You don’t even need to know your legislative district, just your address.

Call 1.800.562.6000 and ask the volunteer who answers to deliver a message to your three legislators and the Governor. After providing your address, leave the following message (feel free to personalize it!).

“Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, healthy, affordable home. I’m disappointed that neither the House nor the Senate Capital Budget invests enough in affordable housing. How are children supposed to thrive in school without an affordable home? Please make sure that the final budget includes a larger investment in the State Housing Trust Fund.”

To learn more about Homestead and our affordable homeownership programs, visit http://www.HomesteadCLT.org. For ongoing coverage of how the legislature is doing on supporting affordable housing, visit Homestead’s state advocacy partner, the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance at http://wliha.org. If you’d like to know a little more about the Housing Trust Fund, visit this page: http://wliha.org/advocacy/state and scroll down to the State Legislative Agenda section.

Why Urban History Matters

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This is a guest post from Chuck Wolfe and was originally published on myurbanist.com

Going forward, let’s not discount the influence of history’s recurring themes in how we redevelop the urban realm.

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So many discussions about cities today look only forward, without fully considering the past.  We presume ways of life that must change for the better:  Greener, more inclusive and shareable;  global in orientation; away from land use regulations that favor separation of uses, and towards healthier, less auto-dependent realms.

I do not believe for a moment that urban change is so simple.  Without a longer view, we risk undervaluing lessons learned long ago.

Height, density, use/control of land and public health in urban settings have evolved for a very long time.  We can build on this urban history of reinvention and renewal and think more universally about how past, present and future define urban development.

Last week, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland to see why this urban history matters.

Impressions of the Waterfront Gondola

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Sketch of Union Street, VIA Architecture
Sketch of Union Street, VIA Architecture
Sketch of Union Street, VIA Architecture

Hal and Kyle Griffith, the family that brought us the Great Wheel, and Matt Roewe, the architect that proposed the Capitol Hill gondola, unveiled plans for a new waterfront gondola system this Tuesday. The system will consist of three stations—one at Freeway Park next to the convention center, one at Waterfront Park, and an uphill-only station on Union between 1st and 2nd.  The gondola will be paid for using private funds, and the goal is to have it ready for operation within weeks of the Viaduct being removed. It will have a capacity of 1,800 people per hour per direction, will have a travel time of 5 minutes end-to-end, with a vehicle frequency of 16 seconds. Cars will carry eight passengers each, and will have room for wheelchairs, strollers, or bikes. They will travel on 8 columns at a height of 40-50 feet off the ground: enough to easily clear trolley wire. The stations will be set up above the roadway and will be accessed by elevators and stairs.

Gondola route.
Gondola route. VIA Architecture.

With the viaduct coming down and the seawall being rebuilt, the waterfront will be a complete construction zone for years. There is a risk that this construction will drive away customers and locally owned unique businesses would go bankrupt. If that happens when the waterfront is finished we may end up with far less character and national chains.

Just like the Great Wheel, the purpose of the gondola is to pull people to the waterfront. These would be conventioneers, but also tourists. The massive Freeway Park parking structure is currently closed on weekends because there’s little demand. But connect that with the waterfront and you get an easy on/off the freeway trip to downtown and the water. Less traffic driving through the city, and easier tourist access. You couldn’t do this with buses—there’s a cliff in the way, the route would be ugly, and it would be slow and infrequent. Although it seems like a reasonable distance to walk, tourists don’t tend to walk this far—parking is difficult to find near the waterfront on summer weekends, yet just half a mile away lots are empty. Plus there’s a significant elevation change as you approach the waterfront. Considering this as just a tourist line, the effect on the city is positive: a bit less traffic downtown and saving businesses on the waterfront.

Kyle Griffith has talked about 2-tier pricing and Orca integration, and has looked into options for extending the line up First Hill. Now that gets interesting. The downtown node happens to be a bit over 1 block from the light rail tunnel entrance, and 1/2 block from the future streetcar. The waterfront station is less than 1/4 mile from the Coleman ferry terminal. Plus Freeway Park is so empty it’s dangerous, and this could activate it both as a station in this design and as a transfer node if the First Hill line is built. As transit projects go this won’t have a huge impact—a pedestrian will probably only save 10 minutes between the waterfront and the convention center. But for families, the elderly, suburban drivers, and even some ferry commuters this has the potential of being a useful piece of the transit system. And it won’t cost taxpayers a dime.

Is Seattle Really Committed to Fossil Fuel Divestment?

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The environmental group 350.org is pushing the “Fossil Free” divestment campaign to get educational and religious institutions, city and state governments, and other institutions that serve the public good to divest their stock portfolios from fossil fuel companies. They believe that it’s wrong for these institutions to profit from wrecking the environment.

Modeled after campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, the “Fossil Free” campaign urges institutions to freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies and divest from owning any commingled funds that include fossil fuel stocks and bonds within five years. So far, nine colleges and universities, 25 cities, two counties, 23 religious institutions, and 19 foundations have committed to this divestment pledge. Currently, there are active divestment campaigns at both the University of Washington and Seattle University.fossil free

Seattle was the first city that committed to pursue divestment. Following Seattle’s example, 10 other municipalities, including San Francisco, Boulder, and Madison, also announced their intention to seek divestment. In 2012, former Mayor Mike McGinn pledged that Seattle would investigate the most responsible way to divest its pension plan from fossil fuels.

Mayor McGinn was a strong proponent of divestment. At a divestment forum last October, McGinn said “Isn’t it fiscally irresponsible as well as morally irresponsible to invest in companies whose very business model depends upon destroying the climate we depend upon?”

A Closer Look

The city manages three major investment sets:

  • Daily operations: $1.4 billion
  • City employee’s deferred compensation plans: $700 million
  • City employee’s pensions: $1.9 billion

The daily operations fund is basically the checking account of the city, and currently none of that money is invested in fossil fuel companies. The second category, the deferred compensation plans, is determined by the city employees themselves. Before he left office, former Mayor McGinn had instructed the Deferred Compensation Plan Committee to offer employees fossil fuel free options.

That leaves the third category, the city employee’s pension fund. Two of the pension fund’s top 10 investments are with ExxonMobil and Chevron.  These two funds represent just under 1% of the fund, with $17.6 million in assets. The pension plan likely has other fossil-fuel investments as well.  Mayor McGinn had requested that the pension system governing board stop making any future investments in fossil fuel companies, and begin to move existing investments out of those companies.

Does It Really Make a Difference?

Some environmentalists have argued that divesting really does nothing to affect fossil fuel companies’ bottom line. And if we sell our stock but still buy gas from them, we are doing little to effect real environmental change.

McGinn has stated that he had similar concerns when he first heard about the divestment idea. He eventually came around to it, he said, because he heard Bill McKibben, 350.org’s founder, ask simply “Which side are you on?” McGinn came away from the conversation convinced that divestment was the right approach.

However, since the returns of fossil fuel companies are predicated on them burning over five times the safe amount of carbon, there is increasing evidence that holding stock in fossil fuel companies is a financial risk over the long term.  Returns on fossil fuel holdings are predicated on never ending carbon pollution. At some point, the carbon bubble will pop, and these holdings will quickly decline in value.

In addition, a number of studies, including one done by MSCI, Imperio Group, and Impax Asset Management, have shown that even in the short term, fossil-free portfolios perform similarly to those with fossil fuels.

Where We Go From Here

Unfortunately, current Mayor Ed Murray, while stating that climate change is “the most significant issue we have ever faced as a species” just last week, has not said whether he will pursue Mayor McGinn’s divestment plans. Murray has stated that he only supports it if it doesn’t put the city’s pension at risk.

In truth, the mayor doesn’t have any control over the money in the pension funds. A seven-member board controls that. In September of last year, this pension board voted to consider investment changes for social or environmental goals only if it didn’t hurt the pension’s bottom line.

Currently, 350 Seattle is working with Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s office to craft a resolution urging the pension board to begin exploring divestment. They have also reached out to other stakeholders including city employees, retired former city employees, and the associations and unions representing them.

 

East Link Open Houses

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Route 550 buses passing at the South Bellevue Park and Ride. Photo by the author.

During the month of February, Sound Transit held two open houses about East Link Light Rail project. The first open house discussed the South Bellevue segment while the second discussed the East Main Station.

South Bellevue Open House

South Bellevue’s northbound bus issue was solved. The previous design required northbound buses to do eight—that’s right, eight—90-degree turns to get to the station. Many people pointed out this flaw at the 30% design open house. Now, northbound buses will stick to the current routing, while the northbound platform will be used for paratransit. Sound Transit staff provided information regarding the layover area and what it is going to be used for. Essentially, the layover area could be used as extra capacity for buses that currently layover in downtown Bellevue if space becomes sparse there, except route 554 which would either be truncated at Mercer Island or not at all. One of the main issues was the lack of an HOV on-ramp to/from Eastbound I-90.

The capacity of East Link will be huge. Sound Transit is planning to start with 3-car trains every 7 minutes during peak, making capacity of the line slightly above 5,000 people per hour per direction (pphd). As ridership increases, the next move will be to put 4-car trains every 8 minutes, making pphd 6,000, or as much as I-90 carries (around 2,000 pphd per lane or 6,000 total). Sound Transit puts the maximum capacity of the line at 12,000 pphd. That would mean 4-minute headways, which would be quite a feature, but is fully possible in the DSTT and most likely in the short at-grade section in Bel-Red.

There will be a total of five crossover tracks between I-90 and Overlake: near South Bellevue Station, East Main Station, Downtown Bellevue Station, Overlake, and one between the 120th and 130th Stations. Overlake Station’s design will use crossover track type as at Westlake and Sea-Tac. Trains will be able to either cross tracks just before the station as at Sea-Tac, but if needed they’re building a second crossover just after the station, most likely along with a pocket track.

Concerns from the public included light pollution around the station, security and the retained cut in front of the Winters House. Residents were reassured by Sound Transit staff about the first two issues. The Winters House was the subject of much commentary, with some happy that it was being protected and others complaining that it wasn’t historic enough to be worth a multi-million dollar retained cut and lid.

Finally, a group named Better Bellevue was handing out flyers trying to get people to fight against the current light rail alignment, advocating for a bored tunnel all the way from South Bellevue to Downtown. They argued that the project was equal to North Seattle, which is getting a tunnel. The comparison isn’t a fair one because the density of North Seattle justifies a tunnel while South Bellevue is much less dense. It is also possible that their information is biased because they are against the “cut-and-cover tunnel on 110th,” which according to Sound Transit is actually going to be built using sequential excavation, thus not leading to any long-term street closures.

Better Bellevue also claims that the light rail will be extremely noisy and will be a “visual ruin” like the one on MLK. I’m not familiar with 112th, but Bellevue Way is already a very noisy arterial. Additionally, I-90 is also extremely noisy, as wide as 100 meters (330 ft) in places and entirely concrete. Better Bellevue also decries transit-oriented development (and its accompanying low-income housing) and claims Sound Transit is only trying to fill its trains and buses. Yet gentrification is indeed rampant and costly apartments such as these are hardly affordable. Their final argument was that Bellevue, the city in the park, was going to become the city in the park(ing lot). It won’t if we don’t build park and rides, but rather use land for more sustainable purposes, such as housing.

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East Main open house crowd. Photo by the author.

East Main Open House

The East Main open house was a success, and the room was packed with many standing during the presentation. The majority of people attending were residents of the Surrey Downs neighborhood, which is of course logical as they’re the ones that are going to be using the Light Rail and getting benefits from it. Most were thrilled about the idea of light rail coming to the neighborhood, however there were two topics that remained hot during the open house and presentation.

The first was about neighborhood car access. The residents currently have two streets that connect directly to 112th St, SE 1st St and SE 4th ST, as well as Ped/Bike only access to the Bellefield Park Condos, which empties into 112th at SE 15th St. The first two streets are getting cut to dead-ends, with SE 4th St remaining an emergency-access only street over the train tracks. I can totally understand the concern of those people as a third of their access into their neighborhood will be gone. However if there is one thing that Sound Transit can do to appease residents would be to make the ped/bike passage between Surrey Downs and the Bellefield Park Condos a full street with car access.

The second was as well about access, this time to the station. As far as design is concerned, the only way to reach the station from Surrey Downs is to walk all the way to the end of 111th at Main then go South on 112th, crossing the tracks twice if coming from/going to the Westbound platform. Given that Sound Transit will maintain a 60-foot buffer between the Light Rail and property lines, it would be easy to have a path just west of the tracks to link the Westbound Platform directly to 111th and SE 4th. Such a path exists in SODO and would improve the walkshed of the station by a lot. I suggested this to several Sound Transit officials who told me they’d look into it with the community.

The open house also included the Main Street portal. The portal will have the same appearance as the ones on either side of the Beacon Hill tunnel, with the portal name and the ST logo engraved above the tracks. Just beyond the portal going north into the tunnel is going to be a construction staging area, later to be converted to a lid park in coordination with the City of Bellevue.

The last topic was Transit-Oriented Development, also called TOD. While TOD is not coming to the Surrey Down neighborhood, it might be across 112th Ave NE. Currently, this space is occupied by the Red Lion Hotel, Hilton Hotel and Bellevue Club, all three with extensive surface parking lots. The Red Lion, made of one and two-story buildings would be put in a new high-rise with ease along with some residential and retail uses. Standing twelve stories tall, the Hilton is built to stay. However, the building already encompasses a big parking garage, making the surface parking the hotel has mostly redundant.

Residential development could easily be launched on the Hilton’s parking lot site, given that some of the underground parking is dedicated to the hotel. The Bellevue Club’s parking can easily be replaced by a level of underground parking under a building that would occupy the site. What I’m proposing would be similar to the Spring District project three stations further on the line. East Main has some major TOD opportunities by being on the edge of downtown and a short ride to both Seattle and Overlake. The hotels will undoubtedly advertise the light rail line as an easy way to get to Seattle and Bellevue.

If you’re interested in the East Link project, be sure to join the Downtown Bellevue segment open house on Tuesday, March 25th.