Cycling/Land Use & Development/Transit 7 Ways To Improve Wallingford

Wallingford is an idyllic neighborhood, but it’s dealing with issues typical to much of Seattle: transportation woes, skyrocketing housing costs and an elevated risk of pedestrian, bicycle and motorist injuries on its streets. Broadly speaking, Wallingford should seek to become a more multimodal neighborhood with stronger transit, better bicycle infrastructure, and safer and more enticing pedestrian spaces. Moving people more efficiently by fuller using more modes would allow Wallingford to continue to grow without getting paralyzed with gridlock.

Here are seven ideas to improve the public realm in Wallingford:

  1. A North-South Protected Bike Lane
  2. Upgrade and Maintain The Burke Gilman Trail
  3. RapidRide E Stop at 38th Street
  4. Pedestrian Improvements on 45th Street
  5. Ballard Spur Subway
  6. Transit Oriented Density In Key Corridors
  7. Remove The Diagonal Portion Of Green Lake Way To Restore The Grid

1. A North-South Protected Bike Lane

The uphill bike lanes do help, but Stone Way is subject to a fair amount of speeding motorists so more protection would increase safety and comfort. The downhill side only has a sharrow. Reducing the speed limit would lower the risk of collisions, particularly fatal ones.

The idea is to connect Green Lake (and the bike trails there) to the Burke Gilman Bike Trail with a protected bike lane (PBL). Two options come to mind: One is to turn the existing bike lane on Stone Way into a protected bike lane by putting it on the other side of the parking lane and adding bollards and intersection treatments. The other is to instead take advantage of the also quite wide but less busy Woodland Park Avenue to put in a PBL.

The Bike Master Plan draft envisions Stone Way as the primary thoroughfare.
The Bicycle Master Plan draft envisions Woodland Park Avenue as a neighborhood greenway, and Stone Way as a bike lake with minor separation. (Seattle Bicycle Master Plan Update 2013)

The Bicycle Master Plan (still not finalized and apparently on hold) acknowledges these options and seems to be thinking along similar lines. As of now, the draft doesn’t endorse a full protected bike lane on Stone Way, but the route considered a “local connector” with “minor separation.”

The street marking have worn off giving Woodland Park a freeway type width travel lanes.
The street markings have worn off giving Woodland Park Avenue a freeway type width travel lanes. Plenty of room to make dedicated and protected space for bicyclists and pedestrians. If Woodland Park is to be the thoroughfare for bicycle commuters though, the avenue will need bicycle signals at Bridge Way, 45th Street, and Green Lake Way, which are each a nightmare to cross.

The big changes seem to be planned just to the west at Woodland Park Avenue where a neighborhood greenway is planned. Woodland Park Avenue is very wide for a lightly used neighborhood street, which likely is related to its history of hosting a streetcar line before it was dismantled with the ascension of the automobile. Not only is Woodland Park Avenue wide, it also is due for maintenance judging by its bumpy, cratered surface that is presently a menace for unsuspecting bicyclists (my friend hit an especially deep pothole here and went over the handlebars breaking his collarbone. He’s fine and back on the saddle now). This overdue maintenance presents a golden opportunity to re-envision the transportation and green space mix on the avenue. Or at the least stripe some bike lanes so the travel lanes aren’t 15 feet wide.

Something is going to have be down with the Woodland Park greenway's intersection with Green Lake Way. See suggestion 7 for a radical idea.
Something will have be done with Woodland Park Avenue’s intersection with Green Lake Way, especially to achieve a functional greenway. A new traffic light with a bike signal would have to do unless we go the more drastic route laid out in suggestion #7.

2. Upgrade and Maintain The Burke-Gilman

The fact that the Burke-Gilman Trail is Seattle’s best bike trail sometimes blinds us to how it could be much better. Some areas have gotten very bumpy and need to be repaved. We also need to improve intersection treatments. In Wallingford, some intersections are a mess with bumpy crossings and jarring curb cuts. The standard should be for clearly marked intersections (bright green paint) with a preference for table top intersections so that instead of dipping down to the road level, the Burke is flat and the road rises to meet the crossing in a table top intersection (basically a big speed bump for crossing motorists and a smooth ride for bicyclists).

If I were transportation czar, I'd remove the utility pole to make a clear less cluttered path for all the pedestrians and bicyclists trying to negotiate this busy intersection.
If I were transportation czar, I’d get rid of the curb at the corner and remove the utility pole to make a clear clutter-free path for the many pedestrians and bicyclists trying to negotiate this busy intersection.

One busy intersection where the Burke-Gilman crosses Stone Way is also more congested that it needs to be. Clear up sign and utility pole clutter to increase the usable sidewalk width and do a much wider curb cut so that bicyclists and pedestrians both have enough space. Sloppy intersections are also a big problem to the east.

The curb forces an awkward swerve to stay on the trail. The ride would be much more comfortable with a much wider curb cut or even better a table top intersection.
The curb forces an awkward swerve to stay on the Burke-Gilman trail as intersects with Densmore Avenue. The ride would be much more comfortable with a much wider curb cut or, even better, a table top intersection to provide a smooth traffic-calmed crossing.

3. Better Bus Service: RapidRide E Stop at 38th Street

This would most help folks in Southwest Wallingford but could potentially relieve bus overcrowding in routes throughout the area. I wrote extensively about that here. Bruce Nourish also covered this same idea for Seattle Transit Blog three years back. Adding a RapidRide E stop is the lowest hanging fruit for bus upgrades and wouldn’t be very expensive.

This is where a 38th Street E Stop would likely go.
Just north of 38th Street is likely where a Lower Wallingford RapidRide E Stop would go. Make it happen, Metro Transit!

Other than RapidRide access, higher frequency is key to reliability for Wallingford bus routes. It will interesting to see how ridership is doing after the latest restructure. For example, will the newly created Route 62 will perform similarly to the Route 16 or does its Dexter Avenue routing sacrifice too much speed versus the former Aurora Avenue routing? As the neighborhood grows and become less car dependent it will become more crucial to augment weekend frequency so car-free residents can still get around.

4. Pedestrian Improvements on 45th Street

45th Street gets a ton of pedestrian traffic but it can get a little hairy as motorists speed through this busy area coming to and from I-5. We should reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour to discourage speeding and add a scramble intersection at Wallingford and 45th. All along the street, cross walks should be a regular feature rather than limited to a few places.

In Wallingford, sometimes the crosswalks are on the murals rather than the streets.
In Wallingford, sometimes the crosswalks are on the murals rather than the streets.

5. Rail: Advocate For The Ballard Spur

The Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package is firming up and it doesn’t appear the Ballard Spur will be on the project list. Downtown to Ballard via Interbay is though and transit advocates are still pushing for a tunnel instead of a moveable bridge. Not only is this the most reliable option, it also provides the City with an opportunity to fund an extension to Fremont, Phinney Ridge, and Wallingford via the Ballard Spur subway. What we need to do is make sure the Ballard Spur is included as a provisional project with a full Environment Impact Statement (EIS). That will make the project shovel ready should Seattle locate funds.

The Ballard-to-UW line would connect with the Central Link at the U District station at Brooklyn Avenue. (Sound Transit)
The Ballard-to-UW Spur line would connect with the Central Link at the U District station at Brooklyn Avenue NE as pictured above. (Sound Transit)

The preliminary study puts the Wallingford stop at 45th Street and Meridian, with another stop near 45th and Aurora Avenue. Essentially that would bring the entirety of north Wallingford into the subway’s walk shed. The Ballard Spur would provide transit users in the corridor an astronomical improvement over the plodding Route 44. One potential funding mechanism that could help secure funds is impact fees to the new development that will come near the stations.

It might cost upwards of $3 billion but it would be awesome. (Seattle Subway)

6. Transit Oriented Density In A Few Key Corridors

One HALA recommendation for zone-wide increases from C-40 and NC-40 to 55 feet would help Wallingford accommodate more residents more efficiently in less area. Plenty of opportunities exist to fill in gaps in the urban streetscape on 45th Street, and, if we redevelop here, we should do it right. Developers can get an extra story with HALA and another with existing incentive zoning. Six or seven stories with some units set aside for low-income tenants would be a nice improvement.

The five story newly constructed Bowman apartment 278-apartment building going up at 3801 Stone Way is good, but seven stories would be even better to maximize the potential of 5 over 1 construction.
The newly constructed Bowman building has 278 apartments and maxes out at 5 stories at 3801 Stone Way. We are leaving a few stories on the table in Type V construction. Seven stories would be even better to maximize the potential of 5-over-1 construction.

The largest buildings make the most sense on key corridors best served by transit and laden with amenities. Away from the main streets, more modest density will make more sense. Some rowhouses and townhomes are already going up where zoning permits, and hopefully that type of modest density will be allowed throughout the Wallingford Urban Village after the City works through the HALA recommendations.

A rowhouse of six units is a recent addition at 46th and Whitman Avenue.
A rowhouse of eight units is a recent addition at 45th Street and Whitman Avenue.

Gas Works Park is outside the urban village but also seeing some fairly large projects going in, including a near-completed office building called NorthEdge. Tableau has rented out the whole building with space for 1300 employees and that fact alone appears poised to supercharge the local economy for years to come. For Wallingford to not build housing to keep up with its local office boom would likely cause housing cost to spiral even further out of control. We have to find a way to accommodate more people.

7.  Remove The Diagonal Portion Of Green Lake Way To Restore The Grid

One stumbling block for pedestrians and bicyclists trying to circulate around northwest Wallingford is Green Lake Way N, which is unmitigated car sewer with no controlled crossings between Whitman Avenue and Stone Way. The width of Green Lake and lack of parking or traffic calming encourages speeding and traffic routinely moves above 40 miles per hour rather than the posted 30 miles per hour.

Green Lake Way was shoehorned into northwest Wallingford to feed into SR-99.
Green Lake Way was shoehorned into northwest Wallingford to feed into SR-99.

Removing a major street, even if only a third mile portion of it, might be too radical for SDOT. However, it would transform pedestrian connectivity in the neighborhood. Currently nobody likes the way that the 5-way intersection at Green Lake Way, Stone Way, and 50th Street functions. In fact, the city voted it the worst intersection of 2016. If that intersection was a simple 4-way stoplight, everybody would benefit, from people trying to walk or bike to Green Lake park to motorists wanting a shorter interval at the light. I suspect you would find some of the trips on the route would disappear as motorists find other routes to cut between SR-99 and I-5 and points in-between. Our carcentric design is inducing demand.

Green Lake Way is fronted by a few businesses that will likely seek to re-develop as they are ill-fitting to the environment.
Green Lake Way is fronted by a few businesses that will likely seek to redevelop to interact better with a more pleasant and non-car-sewer environment.

If we are able to pull off such a revolutionary move, we would open up five parcels currently occupied by car sewer for development. Since the city owns the land, it could use it or maximum public benefit. Social housing would be a great fit in such a high amenity neighborhood. The city could establish a pedestrian only trail along the diagonal. Removing a major road might be far-fetched (perhaps even more so than a freeway cap over I-5 at 45th Street) but it would make the area a lot more pleasant to walk around.

Green Lake Way map
Green Lake Way divides the neighborhood, both from a pedestrian perspective and from the city’s planning perspective; it represents the northern limit of the Wallingford Residential Urban Village. (Google Maps)
Green Lake Way Redux
Without the diagonal of Green Lake Way, the street grid emerges. The dark gray represents developable parcels that could be gained in rough terms. (Google Maps)

This article is cross-posted at The Urbanist.


How I Was Sidelined From The Wallingford Community Council

I published an article about running for the Wallingford Community Council (WCC) on The Urbanist and it got a lot of comments. Ansel Herz even picked up the story for The Stranger. Now the headline about me accusing WCC of prejudice is a bit dramatic although I did use the word prejudice in a tweet and stand by that. Several WCC board members were nice to me (even if they didn’t think I was ready to join the board) and only a few non-officers made the most extreme comments framing renters as freeloaders who would best be served by moving away. So I don’t want to paint the WCC as a whole as mean-spirited. Nonetheless, obviously the WCC board and several members was very sure I’d be a problem before even truly hearing me out. I’ve cross-posted the piece below with a few updates.


The Wallingford Community Council (WCC) had its annual meeting Wednesday night and elected a new slate of board members, and, to make a long story short, I ran for one of three at-large board positions and lost. Everyone ran unopposed in advance of the meeting, but Susanna Lin (who ran and got elected to another at-large board position) sounded the alarm that a urbanist renter was trying to get involved and the WCC gang lined someone up to challenge me at the meeting.


According to its own website: “The Wallingford Community Council (WCC) of Seattle is a neighborhood voice representing the greater Wallingford community in interactions with city government on land use, transportation, and parks.” Nonetheless, that voice is not to include urbanists, apparently.

They saved the election for my position for last. Everyone had just got elected unopposed until me. Then Donn Cave—who had just got elected himself—endorsed his friend Glenn Singer for my position leading to the first and only contested election of the night. They had us give speeches. I gave my little two-minute speech about how I could bring a renter’s perspective to the community council. A woman named Berta asked if I even lived in Wallingford, perhaps hoping to discredit me on a technicality. The western boundary of the WCC is Aurora Avenue; so, despite technically living in East Fremont, I qualify for the council.

The Wallingford Community Council meets at the Good Sheppard Center.
The Wallingford Community Council meets at the Good Sheppard Center. (Chris Robinson)

Foiled there, Berta followed this friendly query up with, “why did you move to a city that’s so expensive and then ask the taxpayers to help you?” I asked how the taxpayers were subsidizing me and she said that’s what HALA does and reiterated, “why do you live here?” It felt like she was saying that I should go live somewhere else. I mumbled something about I live where I want to live and Seattle is a great place and I wasn’t receiving a public subsidy. I also noted that I was interested in HALA for the novel idea of helping folks less fortunate than myself. Glenn gave his speech about owning a home and having a longer history in the neighborhood. Speeches completed, everyone voted so long as they paid $25 to become members “in good standing” by May 11th.

House Speaker (and Wallingford homeowner) Frank Chopp then gave a presentation bragging about how he blocked a HALA provision in Olympia, which many in the room really cheered on. (Chopp may have a point about that particular provision even if he abused his power as speaker to block the bill.) As he fielded questions, it became clear he didn’t really want to wade into deeper end of the HALA debate and claimed he was too busy to form opinions on some other contentious issues. A shrewd political move.

So an hour or two later they announced the voting results: Glenn had won in a “close” tally, though we weren’t told the exact vote totals. A handful of people walked up me afterward to offer words of support and a few even apologized for the woman who kindly suggest I get heck out of Seattle and her neighborhood. One new officer told me my writings with The Urbanist are what did me, specifically my piece on 45th Street, which highlighted potential parcels for re-development along Wallingford’s main business district. Apparently gas stations, suburban-style banks, and strip malls are too sacred to go.

As it stands, it would seem the Wallingford Community Council is entirely homeowner-run and poised to represent and privilege that viewpoint in its dealings with the HALA implementation process.

Inclusionary Zoning Is Not The Boogeyman You’re Looking For

People express a wide spectrum of opinions on inclusionary zoning (IZ). Some say it’s the “beating heart” of affordable housing policy and critical to its success. About a month back, Evan Roberts wrote a article arguing IZ is terrible policy that will undermine affordable housing by increasing market prices and decreasing housing supply. That is what a libertarian economist might theorize would happen. But is it what happens? Stepping aside from the theoretical Econ 101 chalkboard and looking for real world examples of this boogeyman, it’s hard to find them. Of the two articles Roberts cited, one did not show the effects he claimed and the other was conducted by a suspect libertarian think tank and has been discredited. IZ policies haven’t always been successful in creating large numbers of units, but rarely are the dire side effect predicted found either.

My position is that IZ is an important policy to keep in cities’ toolbox to maintain income segregation and boost affordable housing in the most desirable areas. And yes IZ makes for good politics, as Roberts conceded, because a major obstacle to increasing housing supply is local homeowner opposition and IZ defuses the argument that new development is not affordable. So why pass on a valuable tool?

What is inclusionary zoning?

Inclusionary zoning mandates affordable housing units at a certain percentage (usually in the 5% to 20% range) in new developments in exchange for density bonuses (greater height limits and floor area ratio (FAR) requirements). In Seattle, the plan is to percentage of housing at between 5 and 7 percent and to define affordable as 60 percent of area median income (AMI).


In this illustration of Seattle’s pending mandatory affordability program, the red top floor on the leftmost buildings represents the density bonus gained through the MIZ program. (City of Seattle)


What was that about suspect libertarian research?

Roberts relied on suspect research to support a pessimistic view of IZ. Perhaps my progressive is showing, but I’m immediately suspicious of research by Benjamin Powell, who has worked at a libertarian think tank and has regularly appeared on Fox News. More substantively, he ignored long-held economic beliefs in the rush to discredit IZ. (Incidentally, Powell also wrote a book arguing for sweatshops.) In note 46 on the article sets a new definition of land as an elastic good despite the consensus among most economists, both liberal and conservative, that land is an inelastic good:

One of the only ways that inclusionary zoning would not affect quantity is in an equally unrealistic situation where the supply curve for new housing were vertical (or perfectly inelastic). In this case, suppliers (raw landowners) would bear the full burden of the tax. This is unlikely because it would require suppliers of raw land to supply the same amount of land to residential development regardless of what price they received.

It might sounds like we are getting into the weeds here with economic theory, but this is to show that the contention that IZ inhibits housing production is built on the shakiest of foundations. Counter-intuitively, landholders supply essentially the same amount of land whether the regulatory costs or taxes associated are low or high. This is due to land’s inelastic nature.

The other Contemporary Sociology article paints a more mixed picture than Roberts claimed it did. Suburban Boston did seem to see a decrease in housing production. However, the abstract describes: “There is no evidence of a statistically significant effect of IZ on new housing development in the Bay Area.” Thus the decrease in housing supply the theoretical models predict do not consistently happen in the real world. The Urbanist has done a more extensive survey of academic research and found that 4 of 5 articles found no negative effect on supply and the fifth was conducted by a libertarian think tank and largely discredited. By the way, one of the studies reexamined the suburban Boston data and found the negative impacts slight and only in the single family home segment.

Land Value Capture

I highly doubt developers are going to pass most of IZ costs to market-rate tenants. To say that IZ’s cost are passed onto renters ignores land value theory. IZ fundamentally changes the value of the land. At the least, two things can happen besides renters bearing the cost of IZ. First, the developers could bid less for the land cutting into the huge windfalls landowners are extracting for prime urban real estate. Second, developers could still bid nearly as much and eat the cost, since, as has been discussed on before, landlords do not set rents arbitrarily; the market determines the price, and a landlord will not charge more than the market will bear. Conversely, landlords rarely charge less than market will pay. Schemes that rely on cutting regulatory costs alone to lower the price of market housing run into this reality. And let’s not forget that the best practice is to link IZ to an upzone so that developers get something in exchange for participating: the ability to build more units which should make their buildings more profitable.


Another criticism of IZ is that it can’t scale well or produce token amounts of units. It all depends how the program is set up. Some programs have been very poorly crafted and seen poor results. Others have been very successful. Mandatory inclusionary zoning created more than 14,000 units in Montgomery County, Maryland. The rate of creation dropped off after the year 2000 but still averaged 245 units per year between 2000 to 2013. To me, those are big results. Seattle expects MIZ program that aims to create 6,000 income-restricted units in the most amenity rich neighborhoods within the next decade. To me, those are big results.

Inclusionary Conclusion

The issues of housing and land economics are admittedly very complex. The research is sparse, and the results often aren’t conclusive. Nonetheless, I think there’s enough evidence supporting mandatory inclusionary zoning tied to upzones to implement the policy in booming cities struggling with affordability. Other policy interventions will be needed, too. But in lieu of a land value tax or something revolutionary like that we need to enact what is politically feasible in this moment. I’m glad my home city of Seattle was bold enough to enact MIZ. Not only will it build momentum behind upzones, it also should house 6,000 low income families in ten years. So my plea is this: don’t dismiss inclusionary zoning prematurely based on theoretical models rather evidence. If Seattle’s plan blows up in our faces, you can laugh at us then. But at least give us the benefit of the doubt.


Sound Transit Submits Suburb-Heavy Expansion Plan

This article is cross-posted at The Urbanist.

Commuters in Seattle’s suburbs should like what they see in the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan that the Sound Transit Executive Board unveiled on Thursday. Seattle urbanists are left wondering what they get out of the ambitious but suburban-focused 25-year $50 billion plan to bring Sound Transit’s total to 108 miles of rail, a length that would rival BART in San Francisco. Sound Transit officials estimate that $27 billion would come from regional taxes and $23 billion would be leveraged from other sources like the federal government.

Seattle: West Seattle Junction, At Grade To Ballard… That’s It?

The plan would build light rail to West Seattle Junction in 2033 and to Ballard via Interbay and a new Downtown transit tunnel by 2038. The plan calls for at-grade rail in Interbay and a moveable bridge crossing of Salmon Bay which cause some to worry that light rail to Ballard would be bogged down in traffic, both nautical and terrestrial. Sound Transit’s own study found that the at-grade option to be 5 minutes slower than a completely grade-separated option (23 minutes versus 18 minutes). We can take solace that a second Downtown transit tunnel is on the plan, but, without many additional Seattle destinations in the light rail network, that tunnel would also be more about expanding capacity for suburban commuters than it would be about helping Seattleites. If ST3 has $50 billion, why did Sound Transit not pick a gold standard rail option for Ballard? The Ballard-to-Downtown options that were entirely elevated or with a tunnel crossing of Salmon Bay show massively larger ridership. Options C-01B (elevated) and C-01C (tunnel crossing) each showed ridership of 102,000 to 133,000. With the opening of the University Link, the Central Link hit ridership of 57,000 on Tuesday. Option C-01B or C would more than double that, showing its colossal potential. So why did Sound Transit not go with the superior option on travel time, reliability, and ridership?

A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)

A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)

Extensive Suburban Rail Service

Finishing the Central Link spine north to Everett and south to Tacoma remains the central focus of Sound Transit’s vision. Everett promoted the extravagant option of routing to Paine Field picking up roughly the same ridership while spending about $2 billion more and taking 13 minutes longer than the I-5 alignment, and costing about $1 billion and taking 7 minutes longer than the most direct SR-99 alignment, according to Sound Transit own study.

Extending the East Link to the Redmond city center also got priority by being pegged for 2028 completion. Tacoma Dome would get service by 2033 and Tacoma Community College by 2041.

Meanwhile, Everett could be served by 2041 (a mere 26 years from now) via extensions of the Link spine. Same goes for Bellevue to Issaquah with a 2041 opening while the plan also calls for the extension of Sounder rail service from Lakewood south to DuPont by 2036.

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Trump In The City

City-dwellers often try the best they can to ignore the circus of presidential politics and the political theater of congressional gridlock. We even spin narratives that cities are stepping in to fill the void left by an ineffective US Congress and forge a more progressive future despite the many obstacles a rabidly conservative congress throws in their way. To some extent that is true; cities are making progress even without much help from a stingy congress. Eventually the narrative — namely, the city as a progressive bubble insulated from the conservative nation gridlock enveloping it —  comes crashing to the ground. Particularly when the three-ring circus comes to town.


The Donald Trump three-ring circus came to Chicago on Friday night to stage a old-fashioned racist revival, which was made all the more frightening by the fact he has the inside track to the Republican nomination and from there a shot at becoming President of the United States. However, turns out a minority-majority city (Chicago is 45% white) isn’t the greatest place to shill white supremacy. Trump found thousands of protesters awaiting him outside and hundreds more inside the UIC Pavilion. Previously, Trump has relished ejecting protesters and hurling insults as security removed them, even inciting his followers to rough them up. Perhaps, he feared this time his swaggering supporters would too vigorously heed his calls for violence, or maybe that they’d be outnumbered. Whatever the reason, the self-styled tough guy canceled his rally.

The crowd was asked to leave, and, as Trump supporters filtered out and encountered protesters, several scuffles ensured. At one point, protesters began chanting “we gonna be alright,” a lyric from Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, which is slowly cementing itself as a Black Lives Matter anthem. The whole chorus goes like so:

When you know, we been hurt, been down before, n****
When my pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, “where do we go, n****?”
And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, n****
I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright

Trump has been a noted advocate of using police brutality to quell the masses. There may be no better foil for Black Lives Matter in modern politics. In the aftermath, Trump was quick to blame everyone but himself for the canceled rally from CNN to Obama to Bernie Sanders to “thugs.” He also didn’t miss the opportunity to spin the turmoil as a boon for him with voters, saying he might gains votes from the backlash. He might be right as far as the Republican primary electorate goes.

If Trump is the wrinkly, spray-tanned mouth piece of Nativism, who is his counterpart speaking on the behalf of multiculturalism and racial justice? Who is breaking down the Otherness and the criminality that Trump is projecting onto non-white Americans? Maybe the fact that protesters were chanting Kendrick Lamar lyrics is no coincidence. The Compton-raised rapper filled that void in pop culture and popular media being exploited by Trump and his tremendous hate vortex sucking gullible and haplessly angry people left and right. Hip hop is still one of the dominant musical genres in American culture, and few are able wield it to greater political effect than Kendrick.

My takeaway from Chicago is that Trump’s brand of authoritarian conservatism will prove to be incompatible with cities. Cities are places that seek to foster inclusion and diversity; their economies are propped up by immigrants. Much of their music celebrates black culture, Latino culture, and cultural differences. This is partly by choice, but also out of necessity. Minority communities need places to live and a sense of place. Exclusionary suburbs, exurbs and rural areas tend to deny them that place in a variety of ways from discriminatory real estate practices, exclusionary land use policy, weak social services, poor public transit, and biased policing. The city then is where immigrants, African Americans, and Latinos seek refuge and opportunity in an otherwise unwelcoming nation.

If progressives thrive best in heterogeneous cities, Trump, meanwhile, represents the homogeneous gated community walled off from the poor, the black, the brown, and the huddled masses. For Trump to come into a cosmopolitan city and act surprised they don’t roll out the welcome mat shows either how out of touch or disingenuous he is. If the energy that was on display in Chicago is any sign of voter turnout this November, we gonna be alright.


LRT vs BRT: West Seattle Needs A Full And Unbiased Analysis

[This article is cross posted at The Urbanist.]

Bus rapid transit (BRT) proponents argue that dense population and growth centers of West Seattle are too spread out to be effectively served by one light rail line, and they’d say even a dual line wouldn’t cut it. It’s a worthy debate that has been extensively hashed out between light rail and BRT evangelists, but one piece of the debate has recently changed. In early December, conversations by Sound Transit staff and decision-makers began to consider a larger investment package for Sound Transit 3 expansion plan.

Instead of a mere $15 billion, the region may see a transit measure closer in size to $25 billion or $30 billion. Naturally, with more monetary resources comes more investment capabilities. At the same time, Sound Transit also released a comprehensive “Corridor Summary” that projected daily ridership as high as 50,000 for its “West Seattle Junction” elevated light rail option and as many as 40,000 daily riders for its Delridge Way at-grade light rail option. That’s as many as 90,000 riders combined for perhaps a $3 billion investment ($2 billion for Delridge and $1.8 billion for “West Seattle Junction” but the two lines share the cost of first three stops and the Duwamish rail bridge thereby reducing the overall cost). Of course you’d have to adjust for the first three shared stations so you couldn’t just add the numbers together. Still, these aren’t paltry ridership numbers when compared to other high performing alignments like Ballard to Downtown Seattle (up to 133,000 daily riders for a $4.7-$5.3 billion investment).

West Seattle Combo

The red line is a light rail routing that I previously suggested for West Seattle; it’s a combination of the 3-A and 3-C options in Sound Transit recent study. I estimated a cost of $3 billion to do both based on Sound Transit numbers.

The skeptics would have you know that several Sound Transit Boardmembers seem to favor light rail to West Seattle and have all but promised an alignment there. They would also suggest that Sound Transit is inventing these numbers out of thin air to ensure that outcome. So who cares what the numbers say?

They might be right. The ridership numbers seem inflated.

Sound Transit should take BRT seriously and appropriately evaluate it. How much ridership would a West Seattle BRT see? How would Sound Transit handle operations? Would they build it and then hand it over to Metro Transit? The key to clarity for high quality transit to West Seattle is Sound Transit studying both light rail and BRT options extensively and honestly so we can make an informed decision.

Buses In The Next Transit Tunnel?

The utility of West Seattle BRT hinges on access to a Downtown transit tunnel to speed trips through the core. Sound Transit recently studied a second transit tunnel, and it seems more and more likely they’ll build it. The big question for BRT fans is whether they will allow buses in the tunnel if built.

Bus and rail already share one transit tunnel in Downtown Seattle, but that relationship has been tenuous at best. Bus operations have always been relatively slow in the tunnel. Increasing Downtown bus trips and combination of new light rail service necessitated the permanent elimination of some routes from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel early on. Then in 2012, the Ride Free Area was ended and threatened increased average boarding times for buses. Metro responded by platooning buses and hiring staff to load buses via the backdoor with mixed results. Subsequent rounds of service changes have kicked more and more buses out of the tunnel and onto city streets, but buses may hang on until the early 2020s before being fully eliminated from the tunnel. In the meantime, light rail service in the tunnel is regularly delayed by bus operations.

Sound Transit likely doesn’t want to unnecessarily recreate such poor service delivery. But if buses are denied access to a transit tunnel, we’d have to assess how rapid BRT to West Seattle could effectively work through Downtown Seattle.

Growth Potential

Much of West Seattle’s light rail long term viability hinges on growth. Skeptics say West Seattle simply won’t grow enough to justify light rail investment. Underlying this is the assumption homeowners and neighborhood activists will block changes in zoning and impede development. They might be right, but the irony is that the BRT crowd is perfectly willing to talk politics when it supports their point on land use (i.e., NIMBYism will prevent West Seattle from ever growing into a community large enough to support light rail). On transportation, however, they don’t want politics to factor into a sober assessment of transit quality. They say BRT could serve more of West Seattle and Delridge with one seat rides for much cheaper, so we should just dismiss some people’s stated preference for rail as a frivolity. At least in Sound Transit’s survey, West Seattle elevated light rail had strong support, getting more votes than any other listed project. If we think we can overcome rail preference to sell BRT to West Seattle, I expect we might be able to sell them on zoning changes too.

Current Density

In 2010, the US Census Bureau found that the wider West Seattle community had a population just shy of 83,000; Southwest with 48,008 and Delridge with 34,904.

This is how the City of Seattle roughly delineates its neighborhood communities for statistical purposes, although the 2010 census data may represent a slightly different region. (City of Seattle)

This is how the City of Seattle roughly delineates its neighborhood communities for statistical purposes, although the 2010 census data may represent a slightly different region. (City of Seattle)

West Seattle and Delridge are growing steadily, although nowhere near as rapidly as the incredible rates achieved in Downtown and Lake Union. From 2000 to 2010, West Seattle grew by 4.6% while Delridge grew by 6%. Recent data from The Seattle Times, showed continuing growth concentrated most heavily around Avalon and Alaska Junction. Moreover, a quick glance at Seattle in Progress confirms that more than a dozen big projects are on the way.

Chad Newton at Build The City blog made this nifty density map based on 2010 census data. As you can see, West Seattle has only a few sections in the orange (10,000 to 25,000) density level. (Chad Newton)

Chad Newton at Build The City blog made this nifty density map based on 2010 census data. As you can see, West Seattle has only a few sections in the orange (10,000 to 25,000) density level. (Chad Newton)

BRT proponents say that even if West Seattle grows significantly, its transit demand still won’t catch up to denser areas in the central core of the city or the dense urban swath found from Ballard to the University District. That may be, but this doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition.

Hypothetically, West Seattle and Ballard both could get light rail. We could even build the Metro 8 Subway if we lobbied Sound Transit hard enough. Sound Transit could also help Metro upgrade its most successful RapidRide line — the E Line — to as close to full BRT as possible. The E Line (Aurora Village) reached 15,800 weekday rides in 2015 and leads the RapidRide pack by far; this seems an obvious place to invest further. Adding more BRT lines than just a hypothetical West Seattle line would also avoid accusations of favoritism, and it’d spread ST3 benefits across a wider area.

Maybe BRT will ultimately be the best solution for the West Seattle peninsula, too. But at this juncture, we need to study both light rail and BRT options further to evaluate their costs and benefits.

A Loopy Idea for ST3: Circling Lake Union, Doubling Down in West Seattle

[This article is cross posted at The Urbanist.]

To make a long story short, I’m making the case a wide subway loop around Lake Union. To accomplish, all you need to do is build the Ballard Spur and the first part of the Metro 8 Subway, and then loop these stub lines together via Central Link’s Capitol Hill to University District segment and the planned Ballard to Downtown (via Interbay) line. The loop replaces the operation of the Ballard Spur and Metro 8 Subway alone, allowing the routes to flow into one another and facilitate diagonal movements such as Ballard to Capitol Hill. I’ll go into more detail below.

Lake Union Loop

The Orange Line represents the Lake Union Loop. The yellow dots are possible in-fill stations on the Ballard Spur. The Gray Line indicates the tighter loop with an optional extension to Phinney and Greenwood. (Interactive map)

I also think that building both West Seattle light rail alignments, 3A (Delridge Way) and 3C (West Seattle Junction), together would best serve that portion Seattle, at least based on the Sound Transit study data. The two routes would share the expense of the Duwamish rail bridge and the trackage in SODO. I think both would pencil out better this way. Building Ballard to Downtown, the Ballard Spur, a starter line for the Metro 8 Subway and a split West Seattle light rail line is going to be expensive. Thus, this is also an argument for STcomplete, Seattle Subway’s idea of doubling the timeline to 30 years so that we have the money to pay for all our good ideas.

Predicting the Leaning of the Sound Transit Board

Sound Transit has less than a year before Sound Transit 3 (ST3) goes to the ballot. The Sound Transit Board must finalize their project list and decide on a time span for the next phase of buildout. Expanding the timeline means more money and more projects. At 15 years, Sound Transit would have funding capacity of $15 billion for investments. Adding years beyond the base fifteen expands the capacity exponentially due to Sound Transit’s bonding going off the books.

At 25 years, Sound Transit would have more than $30 billion to work with. A few Sound Transit Boardmembers have indicated a preference for 20 years or perhaps even 25 years in a transportation expansion package. That would expand the number of projects to serve the many light rail-hungry voters in the region. The following is a list based on the latest Sound Transit study:

North Spine – Lynnwood to Everett

  • Cost: $3 to $5 billion
  • Ridership: 42,000 to 58,000
  • Travel time: 25 to 38 min, depending on option

South Spine – Kent to Tacoma Dome

  • Cost: $3.5 to 3.7 billion
  • Ridership: 49,000 to 69,000
  • Travel time: 28 minutes
  • Alignment: I-5

Ballard to Downtown

  • Cost: $4.4 to 5.3 billion
  • Ridership: 67,000 to 87,000
  • Travel time: 19 min
  • Alignment: Favoring a grade separated Interbay routing

New Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel

  • Cost: $2 billion
  • Ridership: bumps Ballard line to 102,000 to 133,000

Ballard to Ballard High School Elevated Extension

  • Cost: $350 million
  • Ridership: 4,000 to 5,000
  • Travel time: 2 minutes

West Seattle Junction to Downtown

  • Cost: $1.8 billion
  • Ridership: 39,000 to 50,000
  • Time: 11 minutes
  • Alignment: Favoring elevated light rail

West Seattle Junction to Burien

  • Cost: $2.8 billion
  • Ridership: 18,000 to 26,000
  • Travel time: 22 minutes

Downtown to Delridge to White Center

  • Cost: $2 billion
  • Ridership: 34,000 to 40,000
  • Travel time: 18 minutes

Ballard to University District Subway (Ballard Spur)

  • Cost: $3 billion
  • Ridership: 19,000 to 24,000
  • Travel time: 7 minutes

Totem Lake to Issaquah

  • Cost: $3.2 to 3.4 billion
  • Ridership: 12,000 to 15,000
  • Travel time: 31 minutes

Overlake to Downtown Redmond

  • Cost: $1 to 1.1 billion
  • Ridership: 8,000 to 10,000
  • Travel time: 8 minutes

1. Spine Obsession

The Board’s obvious first priority is in building the Spine from Tacoma to Everett, and it would appear they might have $9 billion or more sunk into that endeavor. Part of the reason that number has climbed so high is Sound Transit is letting Snohomish County talk its way into working in a Paine Field dogleg that would cost about $2 billion more than a simple, direct I-5 route — and maybe $1 billion more than a SR-99 routing that is the most urban and transit-oriented development supportive option for the county.

2. Bowing to Booming Ballard

In Seattle, connecting Ballard to Downtown stands out, particularly with a new Downtown transit tunnel, which allows the whole project to draw a projected 102,000 to 133,000 riders for a capital investment of about $7 billion. In comparison, the Spine’s $9 billion is projected to add 91,000 to 127,000 riders. (Personally, I’m generally skeptical that suburban routes will meet estimated projections.) Ballard is a rock solid investment.

Anton's proposed Belltown alignment. (Anton Babadjanov)

Anton’s proposed Belltown alignment. (Anton Babadjanov)

The latest work from Sound Transit shows a Ballard to Downtown light rail line that manages to completely avoid Belltown, veering toward South Lake Union instead. Anton Babajanov, a write for The Urbanist, presented a nice alternative routing that manages to connect both Belltown and South Lake Union via the Ballard line.

Initially, I thought the the ideal solution to the Belltown/South Lake Union problem would actually be two subways; that being the Metro 8 Subway along Denny Way paired with the direct routing of the Ballard line through Belltown. Unfortunately, Sound Transit doesn’t appear to want to touch the Metro 8 Subway with a ten-foot pole. It might be up to Seattle alone to build that urban line. Anton’s routing could help Seattle jump start the lurching progress of planning Metro 8 Subway and cut its eventual cost down the road by getting three pricey underground stations built with the Ballard line (it also helps with a loopy idea I will get to later on).

3. The West Seattle Political Expediency Express

West Seattle seems to be the Board’s second priority, and most people expect the 3A option to West Seattle/Alaska Junction even though the Delridge Way (3C) routing projects to get almost as many riders and more effectively meet the Board’s own equity goals. Part of the momentum to 3A stems from what seems to be Sound Transit inflating their numbers. Their latest “Corridor Summary” has 3A inexplicably getting ridership of 39,000 to 50,000, despite projecting to have a population of just 21,300 in the West Seattle Junction corridor. As part of the same study, but at a more detailed level (page C-46), the report showed 3A getting a ridership of 23,000 to 29,000. Meanwhile, the Delridge option projects ridership in the 34,000 to 40,000 range in the same Corridor Summary (versus 19,000 to 22,000 in the more detailed study), despite a slightly larger population in the corridor.

West Seattle to Downtown Seattle alignments. (Sound Transit)

West Seattle to Downtown Seattle alignments. (Sound Transit)

It’s surprising that the Delridge Way alignment performed so well in the Corridor Summary since Sound Transit included only three stops in Delridge, and none for a 3-mile stretch from about Spokane Street to Thistle Street. Most of Delridge Way isn’t particularly dense, but it doesn’t cost much to add an at grade station. Adding a station near the Delridge Library and another at Orchard Street would rectify this oversight and make the Delridge line even more useful. The Delridge Way line would serve a substantial minority population who make up 54% of residents. Yet, the elevated West Seattle Junction line would only serve a resident minority population of 28%. Choosing an alignment solely to West Seattle Junction could open the Board up to severe criticism over the lack of equity and run counter to stated agency social goals.

Maybe we don’t have to choose. The new rail bridge to cross the Duwamish is one of the most expensive elements of reaching West Seattle. If we can engineer a rail junction at Delridge Way, both lines could share the new bridge. Approximately $1.8 billion for SODO to Alaska Junction and $2 billion for SODO to White Center via Delridge Way could potentially become $3 billion or less for both. The split line would offer much higher combined ridership than one line alone. And Delridge Way provides a more direct route to Burien. That should translate into some major savings off of the lofty $2.8 billion price tag of to reach Burien Transit Center from Alaska Junction. That figure could be cut in half, if not more so, since White Center (the last stop of the Delridge Way line) is midway between Alaska Junction and Burien Transit Center.

Combined West Seattle options.

Combined West Seattle options.

One downside is not directly reaching the Morgan Junction or High Point, but a light rail extension could be added later, while in the meantime we would serve those neighborhoods with restructured feeder buses from West Seattle Junction or Delridge Way.

4. Burying the Spur?

Sound Transit has studied light rail that would connect Ballard to the University District (the Ballard Spur). But the study tacked on an operations and maintenance facility to the project, perhaps inflating its cost relative to others. This suggests the Board isn’t too interested in building the Ballard Spur this time around. Still, it draws 19,000 to 24,000 riders for $3 billion and serves Fremont and Wallingford with light rail where other projects do not. It seems bizarre that Sound Transit maintains that a 4.7-mile West Seattle Junction line would see more than double the ridership of the Ballard Spur’s, despite the Ballard Spur having more than double the population. Further, West Seattle Junction costing $1.8 billion to the Ballard Spur’s $3 billion is also a headscratcher.

I suspect the spur’s lackluster ridership numbers relative to other lines hint at weakness in their ridership projection model. It seems doubtful that Sound Transit projections fully account for growth near stations affecting future ridership and the extent pedestrian-friendly environments encourage people to walk to stops whereas hellish motor-nightmares encourage people to seek other modes.

Beyond the Spine: Prioritize Urban Centers, Hubs, and Villages

Seattle Subway’s guiding principle is that every neighborhood deserves high-quality light rail. More and more, I’m seeing the wisdom in that. We need to distribute growth throughout the city so that it is equitable and spreads the benefits of vibrant urban commercial districts. The question is how to prioritize which neighborhoods should be served first. The densest and fastest growing neighborhoods make the most sense. Seattle projects that 80% of the city’s job and housing growth in the next 20 years will be in urban centers, hubs, and villages, which I will collectively refer to as “urban nodes”.

The Seattle 2035 draft plan is still awaiting approval by the City Council. (City of Seattle)

The Seattle 2035 draft plan is still awaiting approval by the City Council. (City of Seattle)

Urban nodes are already denser than average Seattle neighborhoods and growth will make them more so. Thus, urban nodes seem prime candidates for light rail stations. Ideally, we would connect every urban node in ST3. This would also help the ballot measure appeal to a wide spectrum of the population. The question is whether even $30 billion would be sufficient to finance that much light rail mileage.

Who Gets Left Out?

The urban nodes of West Seattle Junction, Uptown, and Ballard look to make out splendidly in ST3, and Anton’s routing suggestion allows both Belltown and South Lake Union to get in on the fun. Capitol Hill, University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate all will be served once the ST2 investments in the Central Link go live. That covers many but not all of Seattle’s designated urban nodes. Notably missing are a myriad of urban nodes like Lake City, Bitter Lake, Upper Queen Anne, Central District, Fremont, Admiral District, First Hill, and many others. The City’s draft comprehensive plan calls for adding an urban village in the 130th Street area near Jackson Park. (Some, The Urbanist included, want to go farther and have pushed the City to add urban villages in more places, such as Wedgwood, Magnolia, Madison Park and Sand Point.)

Some of the omissions can be explained by geography. Lake City is far to the northeast and Bitter Lake is far to the northwest. The Admiral District is inconveniently located toward the tip of the peninsula in West Seattle. South Park fits neatly into neither the Fauntleroy nor Delridge corridor. Others look good on a map, but topography provides a challenge. Upper Queen Anne would require a underground station hundreds of feet deep, greatly adding to the cost. First Hill didn’t get a Central Link station because Sound Transit said it was physically impossible due to soil conditions.

Some neighborhoods likely won’t get light rail because they would too closely duplicate spine service, such as Eastlake and Green Lake. Central District could be served by the full Metro 8 Subway, but that subway hasn’t even been studied by Sound Transit let alone strongly considered. Meanwhile, the Ballard Spur might replicate the Ballard to Downtown line in some people’s eyes, but it does bring light rail service to Fremont and Wallingford.

Lake Union Loop

In a dream scenario fully exploiting STcomplete, Seattle would build Ballard to Downtown via Interbay, the Ballard Spur, and at least the first part of the Metro 8 Subway. With the about-to-open University Link extension, we’d have the lines to run a big loop around Lake Union to serve the urban nodes of Ballard, Lower Queen Anne, Belltown, SLU, Capitol Hill, University District, Wallingford, and Upper Fremont in a continuous circuit. Not serving the central business District (CBD) would be unorthodox, but, as South Lake Union develops as a job center rivaling the CBD, it could make more and more sense. To me, it just seems like a shortcut to more frequent service and one-seat rides throughout this dense and quickly growing part of Seattle.

A Lake Union Loop seems really far-fetched at first but it might not be so outlandish. The Ballard to Downtown line seems to be Sound Transit highest priority within Seattle. From Anton’s suggested South Lake Union station, it’s just a 3/4-mile extension to reach Capitol Hill Station, thereby alleviating one of the most tediously slow bus routes in Seattle, the Route 8. This is the only section of the Route 8 that the loop would absolutely need (extending it to the Central District would be nice, eventually). You would also need the Ballard Spur, but justifying its $2 to 3 billion cost might be easier if it offers more one-seat rides and better service to a wider swath of Seattle via the loop.

More Ambitious Loop With Lower Fremont, Queen Anne

We also have the option of tightening the loop by adding another line through Lower Fremont and Queen Anne. Unlike the latest Seattle Subway map, I’d run this line as an extension of the Metro 8 Subway rather than having the Metro 8 Subway head south to Tacoma in a U-shaped fashion. (You can view my map illustrating that idea here.)

The tighter loop would branch off from the spur in Upper Fremont and head south picking up Lower Fremont and South Pacific University before reuniting with the tweaked Ballard to Downtown line in Queen Anne. This would be a 2-mile section to connect 45th Street and Linden Avenue (where I have the Upper Fremont station straddling Aurora Avenue and Fremont Avenue) to Queen Anne Avenue and Galer Street. Two miles of twin bore tunnel and two more underground stations could cost upwards of $2 billion. Since the Ballard to Downtown and West Seattle to Downtown lines seem to be first on the pecking order, it may be awhile before Sound Transit has the funds to pay for these urban routes on the loop.

The Upper Queen Anne station would be expensive since Sound Transit has indicated it would have to be a particularly deep station. However, once you commit to that, it could still be incorporated into the Ballard to Downtown line without sacrificing much in terms of directness. This get Queen Anne light rail service much sooner and prepares the system for the 2-mile tunnel to branch off to Upper Fremont closing the loop.


As always with high-quality rail, cost is a clear concern. The tweaks I’ve outlined to the Ballard to Downtown line could push it to the high end of cost estimates ($5 billion) and perhaps beyond with the new Downtown light rail tunnel (projected at $2 billion). However, piggybacking so much on this high priority line not only lays the foundation for a potential loop but also makes for a dynamic line connecting Interbay, Queen Anne, Uptown, Belltown, and South Lake Union, hopefully without sacrificing too much speed.

To close the loop, we are talking maybe $4 billion in addition to the modified Ballard to Downtown line, which projects to cost $7 billion with a new Downtown transit tunnel. We should also plan at least $3 billion for my West Seattle light rail idea. That’s $14 billion in Seattle light rail projects plus $9 billion for the Spine, $1 billion to reach downtown Redmond, $1 billion to reach Burien, perhaps even $3.3 billion to add a dubious Totem Lake to Issaquah line. It’s adding up, but we are still under $30 billion.

Even the the 3/4-mile segment to link South Lake Union to Capitol Hill station might push a $1 billion with the tunneling work and additional station. Running this as a continuous loop would require engineering intersections where they don’t exist on the Central Link alignment. We could plan intersections right into stations in Ballard and South Lake Union if we decide to go ahead with the loop. I think building the three-quarters of the subway to connect the new South Lake Union station in the Ballard line to Capitol Hill is a no-brainer no matter what. Sound Transit might try to get Seattle to foot some of the bill and this corridor is so important I wouldn’t rule it out.

Some lines could be more important to ST3’s electoral success than the Ballard Spur. Extending the Ballard line to Lake City would serve a large population of North Seattleites, picking up Crown Hill, Greenwood, and Licton Springs. That’s a promising project too. With so many intriguing projects, STcomplete is a must. I hope we see at least a 25-year timespan for the system expansion.