Sunday, 12 July, 2020

Light Rail in ST3: A Region-Defining Decision


As Seattle’s economy continues to grow rapidly and as congestion continues to increase, the upcoming ballot measure Sound Transit 3 (ST3) enables us to provide the infrastructure most necessary to support this growth. It’s a crucial shot in the arm for a region that has been long starved of transportation investments. Therefore it’s important to get it right.

Efficient mass transit is the backbone that supports a healthy urban environment. Dense cities attract people because they enable them to increase the number of people they can learn from  to improve their economic and social well-being. As noted in a prior article, an MIT Media Lab paper shows how a doubling of population leads to more than a doubling of economic productivity, known as superlinear scaling. All of this is only possible when there is efficient movement of people and in a dense area this is only possible with dense transportation. But moreover, high levels of interaction are also facilitated by a public realm that supports walking and interaction between people. This means streets need to prioritize walking, sitting and other activities over inefficient car-oriented transportation uses.

To make all of this possible, the fundamental goal urbanists should have with ST3 is provide the most people with the best transit possible.

  • The more people benefit directly from the ballot measure, the more people are likely to vote for it.
  • The more people experience good transit as a result of the implementation of the measure, the higher the confidence in Sound Transit will become over time and the higher likelihood future measures will pass and we will continue to build a successful rapid transit network.

Transportation Corridors

Transportation demand in Seattle can be divided into three fundamental categories:

  • Regional: long-distance connections between King County and the surrounding counties – and specifically connections to Everett and Tacoma
  • City: fast and frequent connections between neighborhoods – Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) has identified the following corridors:
Transit Master Plan Corridors
Transit Master Plan Corridors
  1. West Seattle – Downtown via Fauntleroy/California
  2. Burien TC – Downtown via Delridge
  3. Othello – U-District via Beacon Ave and Broadway
  4. Mount Baker – Downtown via Rainier Ave
  5. Rainier Valley – U-District via Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave
  6. Central Area-First Hill-Downtown via Madison
  7. Queen Anne/Magnolia – South Lake Union – Capitol Hill via Denny
  1. Ballard – Fremont – South Lake Union– Denny Triangle – Downtown
  1. Aurora Village to Downtown via SR 99
  2. Northgate – Ballard – Downtown
  3. Roosevelt – U District – Eastlake – South Lake Union – Downtown
  4. Lake City – Northgate – U District
  5. Ballard – U District – Laurelhurst via Market St and 45th St
  6. Crown Hill – Greenlake – U District
  7. Phinney Ridge – Greenwood – Broadview
  • Local: last-mile access to destinations and to/from nodes of longer-distance transit

Tools at our disposal

How can these corridors be served? The options we have vary based on whether they use exclusive right of way, whether they are fully separated from any interaction with road traffic even at intersections and of course, depending on the type of vehicle used which mainly affects the achievable capacity of a line. All of these factors affect the cost of lines and it’s important to understand the trade-offs as Sound Transit is asking exactly for feedback on which type to use for future lines:

  • Grade-separated rail line:
    • Form: has no interaction with road traffic – is either elevated, underground or runs on the ground (at grade) in an area inaccessible to traffic or pedestrians (e.g. highway median)
    • Reliability: by eliminating potential conflicts with traffic it is typical for 96%+ of trips to be on time
    • Capacity: this is the highest capacity option as it allows running vehicles at very high frequency (for Link as much as every 90 seconds) and the vehicles can be very long without concern for how they interact with city blocks (for Link that is 380 ft, limited by station length). This enables our current Link line to carry a theoretical maximum of 32,000 people per hour per direction (pphpd) with some station facility upgrades.
    • Cost: From $200m/mile for elevated lines to $400m/mile for tunneled lines
  • In street exclusive lane rail line:
    • Form: line runs at grade in the street similar to a streetcar but has its own lanes or uses transit-only lanes. The section of Link on MLK Way is a good example of this.
    • Reliability: despite having dedicated lanes, such lines still interact with traffic at intersections. This leads to a small number of conflicts on a regular basis which in turn lead to system delays when they occur. As an example, Portland’s MAX light rail system which has significant in-street sections had an on-time reliability of 82% in May 2014, while Link has been hovering around 91% for the last two quarters.
    • Capacity: as trains cannot be longer than city blocks (around 200 ft in Seattle) and cannot be reliably run at very high frequencies capacity of such lines can be much lower than grade-separated lines. E.g. a 190 ft train every 2.5 minutes would yield 9,600 people per hour per direction, less than 1/3 that of a grade-separated line.
    • Cost: From $50m/mile to $150m/mile
  • In street exclusive lane bus line:
    • Form: Conventional buses running in dedicated lanes in the street, often in the center to minimize conflicts with turning vehicles.
    • Reliability: comparable to that of the in street exclusive lane rail line
    • Capacity: is significantly lower: with articulated buses every 2.5 minutes one can only carry 2,760 people per hour per direction assuming total crush-load of 115 people per bus.
      • That is less than one third of the capacity of the exclusive lane rail line and less than one tenth the capacity of the grade separated line.
      • And this is the most important part. People often assume that buses can deliver the same service as rail if they have exclusive lanes and can be run at comparable frequency, speed and reliability rates. The problem is that due to the low per vehicle and total capacity, as such systems start attracting higher ridership they quickly reach the point where demand at a given time is higher than the available service, or in other words lead to crush-loaded buses. And a crush loaded bus represents a transit experience that is so degraded that it starts detracting some of the existing ridership. It’s basically a system that scales very poorly.
    • Cost: $20m – $40m/mile


So what’s on the table? The Seattle corridors have been studied by both the City and Sound Transit. The following table lays out what options have been suggested for each corridor and by whom, sorted by 2030 prediction for potential bus ridership as a unifying baseline:

Corridor2030 bus ridership projection (+gain)Project proposals
Rainier Valley – U-District via Rainier Ave and 23rd Ave17,200 (+3,600)Partially covered by Central and East Link
Ballard - Interbay - Uptown - Belltown - Downtown(Northgate – Ballard – Downtown)
16,900 (+4,400)Sound Transit 3:

C-01a: mostly exclusive lane rail; movable bridge across Ship Canal

C-01b: elevated rail through Interbay, tunnel through Uptown and Downtown, movable bridge

C-01c: elevated rail with movable bridge or tunnel Ship Canal crossing
Ballard - Fremont - South Lake Union- Denny Triangle - Downtown16,000 (+6,400)Sound Transit 3:

C-01d: Exclusive lane rail, movable bridge

City of Seattle:

TMP Corridor 8: Exclusive lane rail *
Roosevelt - U District - Eastlake - South Lake Union - Downtown15,000 (+4,300)City of Seattle:

TMP Corridor 11: Exclusive lane rail *
Queen Anne/Magnolia – South Lake Union – Capitol Hill via Denny14,700 (+4,200)
West Seattle Alaska Junction - North Delridge - downtown and West Seattle Delridge14,500 (+4,200)Sound Transit 3:

C-03a: elevated rail over existing or new bridge

C-03b: at-grade rail over existing or new bridge (may not have exclusive lanes)
Central Area-First Hill-Downtown via Madison12,500 (+4,500)City of Seattle:

TMP Corridor 6: Exclusive lane bus
Aurora Village to Downtown via SR 9912,400 (+3,900)
Othello – U-District via Beacon Ave and Broadway11,100 (+3,900)
Mount Baker – Downtown via Rainier Ave11,000 (+5,700)
Phinney Ridge – Greenwood – Broadview9,600 (+2,300)
Ballard – U District - Laurelhurst via Market St and 45th St8,900 (+1,400)Sound Transit 3:

C-02: all-tunnel rail
Burien TC - Downtown via Delridge7,900 (+2,300)Sound Transit 3:

C-03c: at-grade and elevated rail with new low bridge
Crown Hill – Greenlake – U District7,400 (+1,100)
Lake City – Northgate – U District4,600 (+1,300)
Downtown connection between north and south linesSound Transit 3:

C-04: tunnel

C-05: at-grade

C-06: capacity improvements to existing DSTT

C-07: increasing train frequency ID-Northgate

City *: The 2012 TMP suggests using a mixture of exclusive lanes and mixed-traffic operation, but since then the city has taken measures to move existing mixed-traffic projects to exclusive lanes and it is likely to follow suit for those as well.

Also take a look at the following maps from the TMP which show how people move around Seattle – with origin-destination pairs for work and non-work trips. This can help inform your decisions.

Non-work trips (83% of all trips)
Work trips

What can you do as an urbanist?

Fill-out the official Sound Transit 3 survey and:

  • Support fully grade separated options to Ballard (C-01b, C-01c), West Seattle (C-03a) and through downtown (C-04). These are the highest ridership lines connecting major growth centers and the transit we build to them has to be scalable for future needs. The ridership gain and decongestion effects from the improved reliability of grade-separated lines will also be the highest here.
  • Support east-west corridors like the Ballard – Wallingford- U District via 45th (C-02) and Queen Anne – SLU – Capitol Hill (not proposed, you can suggest it). Building a network that requires going through downtown to go from one neighborhood to the other does not reflect actual movement patterns (as shown above) and will hinder achieving urbanist goals in areas of inadequate transit service.
  • The original Sound Transit Ballard to downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study included a Corridor D in its Phase 2 which covered Ballard – Fremont – Queen Anne – Belltown – Downtown. According to the map above, not only does that corridor cover 2 of the major routes for work trips, it also covers non-work trips in the Ballard-Fremont and Queen Anne-Belltown areas and non-work trips represent 83% of all trips. Suggest this corridor be kept for studying in your comments.
  • Note that Corridor C-01d, Ballard – Fremont – SLU – Downtown is something the City of Seattle will pursue if ST doesn’t address it, so it’s worth focusing the ST effort on the other corridors and leaving this one to the city. If you are feeling particularly proactive you can e-mail the Seattle City Council asking that it be studied.

Moving forward

It’s important to not be penny-wise, pound-foolish and prevent the loss of long-term benefits in the name short-term savings. Seattle will be able to sustain much higher economic growth if it builds quality lines even if it means lower mileage. Rail projects are inherently long-term focused and short term thinking here would be inexcusable. The decisions made on a potential Sound Transit 3 ballot measure has the power to determine whether our region will continue to grow as a desirable urban area or will change to deliver a lower quality of life due to an inadequate transportation backbone.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 7: Sally Bagshaw Interview


Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Sally Bagshaw

Sally Bagshaw is an incumbent Seattle City Council member running in the new district 7. She was first elected in 2009 and is now running in the district that covers Downtown (including Belltown and Pioneer Square), South Lake Union, Queen Anne, and Magnolia. She attended Stanford University and earned a degree in law at the University of Idaho Law School. She has lived in Seattle since 1978 and is a downtown resident. She worked for the King County Prosecuting Attorney for 13 years, with eight of those as Chief of the Civil Division. She believes the district system will allow neighborhood interests to be balanced with regional concerns, especially those of King County and the Port of Seattle.

What would you do to make housing affordable to everyone in Seattle?

Baghsaw started by saying making housing affordable for “everyone” is a big statement. She emphasized that people moving to Seattle and contributing to rising housing costs are not evil, as they will be our children and grandchildren. She said continued growth in the urban villages is a starting point. She supports micro housing and, for single family zones, accessory dwelling units (ADUs). She also said inclusionary zoning is an option. She expects to support the recommendations of the mayor’s ongoing committee on affordable housing.

Council District No. 7
Council District No. 7

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Next to housing, transit is Bagshaw’s top priority. She referred to failed efforts to build regional rail in the 1960s, and said she supports the passage of the Sound Transit 3 funding measure. She also said the city needs better east-west transit connections and RapidRide style routes, along with true bus rapid transit (BRT). She said the Rainier Valley has great infill development opportunities around the Link light rail line.

She noted that the ORCA Lift project gained 9,000 users over a 90 day period, but believes it can be greatly expanded. She pointed to Seattle’s utility discount program with 18,000 participants. She envisions a “one stop shop” of low-income programs, including healthcare services.

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Bagshaw is supportive of the plan and believes the city should strive for it, but said some people will always exhibit bad behavior. She said speed is the biggest factor, and said 20 mile per hour speed limits on some streets is acceptable. Saying “I am the poster child for Cascade Bicycle Club’s ‘all ages and abilities’ biking”, Bagshaw voiced her support for separate bicycle facilities and protected bike lanes.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Bagshaw said when it comes to growth, there is “no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot”. She described a number of ways to ensure the city is family-friendly: nursing services for new parents; continuing to develop universal pre-kindergarten to help kids get interested in school; and family planning services at the high school level. She said that the best crime prevention is a family with a home, healthcare, good jobs, and kids in school.

When asked specifically about the comprehensive plan, Bagshaw questioned whether the city’s urban villages and urban centers can accommodate all of the new housing that is needed. She also said only focusing growth in these areas doesn’t invest in schools that are outside of village boundaries. She also said all four of the Seattle 2035 growth alternatives are worth pursuing. Emphasizing the need for good urban design, she suggested streamlining the design review process that takes a long time and relies on volunteers. She suggested the Portland model of providing  architectural templates to developers to help hasten review.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Bagshaw said the transportation network in general is important, and referred specifically to moving freight. She noted the Magnolia and Queen Anne neighborhoods in her district are heavily car-dependent, but reiterated that more sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and RapidRide routes are needed. She suggested allowing carpools to use the RapidRide bus lanes. She said bicycling is the fastest way to get around downtown; anticipating backlash from businesses, she said that data from New York City shows that business revenues increase as much as two or three times when protected bike lanes are installed.

Asked whether she wants to comment on the Highway 99 tunnel project, Bagshaw at first said “no” but went on to note the north and south portals are done. She said the cutterhead repairs need to be finished quickly, and that the main contractor on the tunnel needs to finish before being able to start work on several other international projects.

Read our interview with other District 7 candidate, Gus Hartmann.

Map(s) of The Day: Historic Seattle Zoning

1923 Frelard use plan.
1923 Frelard use plan.

The Seattle City Clerk’s website keeps an expansive online repository of historic zoning maps. I seem to always find myself perusing the 1923 maps in particular. The 1923 zoning ordinance was essentially a snapshot of how Seattle had been developed up to that point. There seems to have been little, if any, planning at the time. And despite this document being nearly one hundred years old (and rather poorly thought out for a city ), it’s actually more progressive in some ways than present zoning. Or at least, it was less restrictive than now.

My wife and I have lived in Fremont since moving here, and now that we have kids, we spend a lot of time at our local parks. We’re aware of which roads are quite inhospitable to cyclists and pedestrians, and tend to avoid walking on arterials because, well, mostly because we don’t live in the Freiburg fussgaengerzone anymore. Drivers speed excessively on the roads around us.

Market Street added to the grid.
Market Street added to the grid.

So it was with delight, and also a lot of disgust, in looking over the ‘Frelard’ map that I noticed that this whole area once had a beautiful, continuous grid. Sure, the topography on some streets isn’t the easiest to hike with kids, and there’s criminally little commercial, but holy cow, over the course of time, the City laid down quite a few scars.

The first one that stands out is the stretch of Market that angles down from NW Market Street at 4th Ave NW to N 46th St and Greenwood Ave N (map). The speed limit on this stretch of road might as well be 50mph. This ‘improvement’ divided through at least 10 blocks, and cut off several more from even accessing it, either due to slope conflicts or to prevent accidents. Some of these cut off sections would have made great woonerven (they’re actually in residential districts).

Green Lake Way in Wallingford.
Green Lake Way in Wallingford.

Green Lake Way stands out as essentially a mirror Market Street on the east side of Aurora Ave. It slices through the grid from the northbound offramp at N. Allen Place to Green Lake Way & N 50th Street (map). It’s pretty much the same effect–8 blocks were hacked up and several more restricted access. An inhospitable speedway dividing the southern half of the road from the north. Good luck trying to cross, I’ve seen several accidents and near-fatalities with pedestrians attempting to ‘frogger‘ across. Some of the lots here could actually have set the stage for interesting buildings, but the zoning has overwhelmingly prevented that.

Separation of Woodland Park by Aurora Ave N.
Separation of Woodland Park by Aurora Ave N.

The third scar in the North Fremont area that really stands out, and also has always irked me, was the bisection of the Olmsted-planned Woodland Park into two separate parcels. Sure, there are some (horrendous) overpasses that link them. Hurrah! The total area of the park is approximately 250 acres per the GIS–if you include the Aurora Ave N right-of-way, parts of the park that stretch north, and the off-ramp at Green Lake. Unfortunately, the 1923 use map for this section was zoned ‘First Residence District’. Given the size of a contiguous Woodland Park, roughly a third of Central Park, this could have been something really amazing had the park been preserved. Painful, no?

1923 use map centered on Woodland Park.
1923 use map centered on Woodland Park.

The last scar that stands out to me is likely the most heinous. However, at this point, it’s also the easiest to rectify (ahem, Seattle City Council). At the time of the 1923 zoning ordinance, the overwhelmingly majority of blocks between 3rd Ave NW and 14th Ave NW, from N 65th St clear on down to Leary Way, was zoned for the following uses: multifamily, business, or commercial. Those diagonal-hatched blocks were zoned for ‘Second Residence District’–also knows as multifamily. Anyone want to take a guess what the present zoning of nearly every one of those blocks is today?

Generalized Frelard zoning of 2015.
Generalized Frelard zoning of 2015.

Last Chance: Support Alternative 5 for Seattle 2035

Your City, Your Future
Your City, Your Future

In an editorial published on Tuesday, we offered our vision on how Seattle must accommodate growth over the next 20 years. We believe that all four Seattle 2035 alternatives presented by the city are insufficient policy statements to appropriately sustain the growth that Seattle anticipates. Instead, we believe that present and future residents of this great city deserve a more inclusive growth approach that emphasizes diversity, equity, opportunity, and accessibility to all. In the editorial, we endorsed our own Alternative 5 which made four concrete proposals to achieve our vision:

1. All areas of the city have an obligation to support growth, and the right to access the urban benefits that come with it. Regardless of wealth, race, class, or zoning, each portion of the city must support its share of the city’s growth. As an example, single-family residential zones are appropriate for many of the common Missing Middle housing types, such as cottage housing, detached accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and even rowhouses. These housing options should be broadly allowed with minimal interference from neighbors. These building types are equitable, desirable, and compatible with the character of residential neighborhoods. While this type of growth may seem painful to some, it presents a wide range of opportunities and benefits: proximity to jobs, access to high-quality transit, grocery stores and restaurants, parks, schools, and more. All these benefits come from growth and density, not the other way around. All residents, whether new or old, deserve to partake in these urban benefits, regardless of where they live.

2. Expand the number and size of urban villages to accommodate growth throughout the city. There are ample commercial and medium-density residential areas in the city that have no urban center or urban village designation, such as Aurora Avenue (north of N 36th St to N 85th St), Upper Fremont, “Frelard”, Westlake, Nickerson, Madison Park, Wedgwood, South Magnolia, Interbay, Graham, and many more. Each of these areas presents an opportunity to absorb growth while providing tremendous urban benefits. The city should also consider extending boundaries in these areas beyond just the immediate medium-density residential and commercial core properties. Transit walksheds extend beyond the core, and bikesheds extend even farther. Connecting bike rides with transit, something that will become even easier with Pronto!’s expansion, shows that the urban villages can be much larger. Overconcentration of growth leads to targeted displacement and disruption. Only by spreading growth throughout the city can we ensure that no single area experiences an unreasonable share.

3. Expand urban zoning in urban villages and urban centers. Designating areas as urban villages isn’t enough. The city needs to go further and expand the areas of urban development in urban villages and high-intensity zoning in urban centers, especially where there is extraordinary demand for housing (e.g. Ballard, Wallingford, South Lake Union, and the University District). This will reduce the number of people that are displaced due to demolitions.

4. Actively mitigate the impacts of growth in areas where displacement risk is high. We support adopting policies that will alleviate or prevent actual displacement. This might include mandatory participation in the multifamily tax exemption (or a similar program), mandatory inclusionary zoning or linkage fees, one-to-one replacement of affordable units in perpetuity, focusing housing levy dollars in these areas, using the city’s bonding authority for sustainable affordable housing options, and other socially progressive housing strategies through the land use code or city actions in the form of programs and partnerships.

We urge you to take action on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Seattle 2035. The comment period closes tonight (June 18) at 5 PM. Please share your thoughts with the Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and let them know that you think The Urbanist Alternative 5 is the best approach to growth over the next 20 years. Brief comments are greatly appreciated by city officials, as are comments that make compelling and thorough arguments. You’re welcome to quote our four points above verbatim in your letter to DPD.

Take the survey and leave your detailed feedback for DPD staff.

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 6: Catherine Weatbrook Interview


Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Catherine Weatbrook is a Seattle native running in District 6, covering Fremont, Ballard, and Greenlake. She’s passionate about capitalizing on the City’s strengths and believes we should create a thoughtful and holistic process to welcome new residents.

What would you do to make housing affordable for everyone in Seattle?

Affordable housing is at the heart of urban planning, transportation, and growth. She believes transit access is key and that growth should happen around areas well served by transit. But she believes transit oriented neighborhoods can be a victim of their success, simultaneously becoming desirable and unaffordable. To solve this, she supports spreading out transit investments–for example, by extending light rail beyond Ballard into smaller neighborhoods like Crown Hill.

She also expressed support for expanding the housing levy while using existing funds to leverage affordable housing. We need to preserve “naturally occurring affordable housing” or we’ll lose inventory and increase displacement.

We can’t bring housing costs down. she said, but we can raise wages. The growing income gap is intertwining with rising housing costs to create the affordable housing crisis.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social, and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Weatbrook believes we should be deliberate when distributing resources like high-frequency transit to minimize displacement. She pointed to immigrant business owners being pushed out by upzones at light rail stations in South Seattle.

She again expressed that these investments should be spread out to calm the rapid rise of prices in specific neighborhoods. We need to decide what we want in a community while maintaining diversity. There’s no magic cure, she stressed–each neighborhood will need individual attention.

Council District No. 6
Council District No. 6

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Vision Zero is a great goal, but she believes we “will always have a problem” when certain parts of the population are prone to taking risks. The road to reducing deaths and injuries needs to include speed enforcement (which doesn’t come with infrastructure costs) and education. She believes there’s a lack of knowledge around existing rules, especially with influx of people from out of town.

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Weatbrook believes we’ve confused zoning with planning–and we need actual planning. That means we’ll need to expand into residential areas. To manage congestion, we need to look at our transportation backbone. “It shouldn’t take twice as long on a bus as a car without a transfer,” she said.

She thinks we should reexamine the urban village strategy, which concentrates job growth in just a few core areas. Spreading out job centers would decrease dead-head bus runs and reduce congestion when everyone isn’t headed the same direction at the same time.

She wants to start by expanding along the light rail corridor, checking bike infrastructure and housing stock before we expand. She also wants to encourage companies to open smaller regional offices. If Google, for example, has a number of employees traveling from Shoreline to the Eastside, they could open an office in Northgate.

Touching on AmGen, she said we need to focus on providing amenities like pedestrian bridges and food trucks on campus for workers to leave their cars at home. She also wants the campus to be served by the Rapid Ride D Line.

Finally, she believes the Comp Plan needs to acknowledge the importance of schools, with 1000 new kids joining the school district annually. The City and School Board used to meet quarterly, and she wants to bring that back.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Grade separated light rail is the most important project in her district. But smaller projects, like adding an E-line stop at the Woodland Park Zoo will be important. She acknowledged obstacles like ensuring ADA accessibility at this particular stop, but believes that a regional zoo should be served by frequent transit.

Read our interview with another District 6 candidate, Mike O’Brien.

Seattle 2035 Transportation Element

Northwest Seattle Mode split expectations Seattle 2035.
Northwest Seattle Mode split expectations Seattle 2035.

A week ago I sat down after work in a Pioneer Square pub with five young men to discuss the Transportation Element and Transportation Appendix of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Seattle 2035, Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan for growth over the next 20 years.

These are smart, responsible young men, who were drawn to an off-hours analysis session in part because they are policy wonks, and in part because they feel a deep sense of civic responsibility. Several of them have young children. And these young men are staring down the road at their future, a future they feel responsible for, in a region and a planet that will be vastly different than the place we inhabit today.

I’m setting the context because the realities of the future guided our discussion. We want our city to contribute to a livable planet. We want a city where living without a car is an easy, affordable, and realistic choice.

We came up with four recommendations:

  1. Use a multi-modal, person-trip level of service standard rather than a vehicle level of service.
  2. Count trips, not just commute trips to work.
  3. Make sure Seattle 2035 is in alignment with existing Seattle plans.
  4. Build transportation models that push the envelope rather than following business as usual.

Multimodal Level of Service

Rather than measure and base our transportation network on roadway capacity for vehicle-only level of service, measure the through-put of people – walking, riding buses and trains, in delivery vehicles, riding bikes, driving cars. The metrics we set for “person-trips” will help us fund and build the complete networks we want in the future. Nearby Bellingham and Bellevue have great models for us to study.

Modal share by urban village.
Modal share by urban village.

Commute trips

We’re changing how we work and we often work from home. Our trip to work represents only a fraction of where we travel. We go to schools, parks, bars, and out to visit friends. The Puget Sound Regional Council collected fine-grained analysis of different trips we make during the day. Let’s make sure our 20-year transportation planning models reflect the variety of places and ways we travel as well.

Align with existing plans

We’re especially happy that the Climate Action Plan expects just 25% of us to drive to work alone by 2035 (could we do even better?) and expects transit boardings to increase by 37% by 2040. We’d like to see Seattle 2035 be clear about which plan alternatives greatly increase the possibility we’ll reach our goals for Vision Zero, the Climate Action Plan, transit, and active transportation modal plans. The current DEIS for the Comprehensive Plan assumes Seattle’s walk/bike/transit plans will fail by projecting mode shares that don’t change very much from existing conditions. This is flat-out wrong. According to our mode plans we will be walking, biking, and riding transit a whole lot more in 2035 — and our Comprehensive Plan needs to reflect this welcome reality.

Great models that push the envelope

What kinds of land use plans would inspire developers to be motivated to build properties that minimize auto trips? How can levels of service be used to fund multi-modal street improvements? What would a car-free downtown look like? What would happen if the city no longer subsidized free parking? We encourage the City to make one “visionary” alternative of Seattle 2035 that reflects new assumptions for the trips we make and that dramatically reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.

After a beer (and a soda for the gluten-free young man), and a long discussion, and a flurry of emails, we still feel a deep sense of responsibility to our future city, and a desire to support Seattle government as it plans for our common future. We look forward to living in a great city in 2035!

We’re down to the final 24 hours to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) of the Seattle 2035 plan! Deadline is Thursday June 18. Make your comments in this form or send mail to

2015 Seattle City Council Election, District 5: Debora Juarez Interview


Article Note: The Urbanist is publishing a series of interviews with a selection of 2015 Seattle City Council candidates. In June, we will release our endorsements.

Debora Juarez

Debora Juarez is running for Seattle City Council in District 5, where she has lived for the past 25 years. Juarez grew up on the Puyallup reservation in Tacoma, and is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. She has worked in the legal profession for 28 years, with roles spanning the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Currently, she chairs the Tribal Practice Group at Williams Kastner.

What would you do to make housing affordable for everyone in Seattle?

Juarez believes that mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhoods are a key part of the solution. She supports policies to promote job growth and new housing in transit-accessible places outside of downtown, so that people can live, work, and play in the same area. She also supports looking into rent stabilization.

Juarez criticized the use of divisive language in discussions about affordable housing. She stated, “Seattle still sees itself as a small city. We’re not.” She believes that the public discourse and culture of the current Seattle City Council is an obstacle to solving the housing affordability problem.

How does planning, transit policy, and development affect racial, social, and economic inequalities in our city? What policies and efforts can we make to combat these inequalities?

Juarez pointed out that there is a long history of using transit and housing policy to create “pockets of poverty”. She said that she “laughs when people think it happens by accident”. She praised the new system of city council districts for giving a greater political voice to neighborhoods outside of downtown Seattle.

In terms of policies, Juarez called for greater transparency into the city budget. She noted that, for years, private Wall Street firms have been able to measure their revenue and expenses in real time. She supports building a similar system for the City of Seattle, so that stakeholders can learn more about how the city is actually spending its money.

More generally, Juarez supports using housing and transit policy to encourage mixed-income neighborhoods.

Council District No. 5
Council District No. 5

Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Do you think that this target is achievable? Why or why not?

Juarez thinks that Vision Zero is a “really good approach to road safety”. She does believe that the target is achievable. She stated, “There are [accidents] that are going to happen, but if there are people [between the ages of] 5-24 [whose] deaths are preventable, that is a good thing.”

How best should the city accommodate the next 20 years of growth?

Juarez reiterated that Seattle “has to recognize that it is a big city”. She wants North Seattle to be a job center and city-wide destination, rather than just a bedroom community for other parts of the city. She pointed to Lake City Way as an example of a corridor that should be targeted for additional growth.

What is the most important transportation project in your district?

Juarez believes that the biggest transportation problem in District 5 is the difficulty of east-west travel, particularly crossing I-5. To that end, she strongly supports the proposed light rail station at NE 130th St and the Northgate Pedestrian & Bicycle Bridge, both of which will improve the district’s access to light rail. She thinks that the federal grant for the bridge was “really well done”, and that if there is a strong advocate on the city council who lives in the project’s district, it will have a good chance of passing.

Read our interviews with other District 5 candidates, Halei Watkins and Sandy Brown.

Take Action: Speak Up For Lowrise Housing

Lowrise housing in Capitol Hill via Google Streeview.
Lowrise housing in Capitol Hill via Google Streeview.

Seattle could soon see significant changes to Lowrise zoning development regulations if the City Council passes legislation on the issue. Spurred on by many neighbor concerns and the activists of Seattle Speaks Up, the City Council has wrestled for over a year on how to craft sensitive legislation to address Lowrise zoning. With a desire to balance the need for development in the zones, the City has explored regulatory changes that would tackle aesthetic issues like design, bulk, and scales in Lowrise developments. The Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee will meet this afternoon in order to consider final legislation before being sent to the full council.

However, Seattleites should be deeply concerned with a set of additional amendments that could find their way into the package of legislative changes. Last week, Jesse Piedfort highlighted how these amendments came to be and why they don’t serve the interests of average Seattle residents. These changes include: reducing possible heights, increasing setbacks, and creating stricter design review requirements.

Yet, the most impactful change will affect how FAR (floor area ratio) is calculated. This change would effectively reduce the number of people that can live in a neighborhood. At the moment, it appears that this particular change has Council support.

With 10% of zoned land in Seattle designated as Lowrise, these amendments would result in a substantial impact on housing in the city. Setting new development limits will reduce housing and density while creating extensive nonconformity of residential structures and uses. This should be a concern to all.

You can show your support for housing growth to the City Council by sending an e-mail expressing your opposition to additional amendments to O’Brien’s legislation. You can also attend the PLUS Committee meeting today (June 16th) and provide public testimony on the matter at 2:00 PM.