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The Seattle Planning Commission On Maximizing Transit Investment

2011 June 30
by dan bertolet

< The recently completed 351-unit "Station at Othello Park" apartments is the only new large-scale private development in any of the 5 southeast Seattle light rail station areas; photo by Dan Bertolet >

Yesterday the Seattle Planning Commission sent a letter to Seattle Department of Planning and Development Director Diane Sugimura spelling out the Commission’s recommendations for maximizing our public investment in transit. Hot and bothered yet?

Well you should be, because it’s quite the spicy letter (if you’re into that sort of thing). Read the whole thing, or if you’re more in the mood for a quickie, here are some passages that caught my eye:

  • We contend that now is the time to outline a clearly defined and transparent citywide Transit Communities policy.
  • We recommend transit communities receive the vast majority of new households and jobs in Seattle.
  • Transit level of service should be more strongly factored into rezone criteria.
  • A citywide TOD policy should model the federal approach that aligns HUD, DOT, and EPA.
  • In transit communities, reevaluate single family zoned land within the five to ten minute walkshed.
  • The Commission is intrigued by the concept of an iconic tower being explored in the Capitol Hill Urban Design Framework.
  • The single use station proposed at Roosevelt will significantly reduce opportunities for activation, vibrancy, and ridership to support Sound Transit.
  • Here in Seattle, our deep bore LINK tunnels could provide the opportunity to integrate geothermal loops into the tunnel shells, transforming our transit lines into clean energy generators and our station portals into district energy hubs for green development.
  • In several Seattle neighborhoods, the elevation and alignment of the tracks (Mount Baker) or the footprint, height, and/or roof system of the station buildings (Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Northgate) may inhibit the ability to create vibrant transit communities.
  • [Parking] minimums should also be eliminated in areas with frequent transit service.
  • The Planning Commission recommends establishing parking maximums and shared parking programs in transit communities.

Good on the Seattle Planning Commission for coming out of the closet on three of Seattle’s biggest taboos: single-family zoning, parking, and building height. Too bad the Commission doesn’t have more authority.


25 Responses leave one →
  1. June 30, 2011

    Density at transit stations solves the problem of too few people riding public transit. It solves no other problems. Let’s talk about ways to solve the real problems without creating new ones.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      July 1, 2011

      How about the problem of where to put all of the new people Seattle must find housing for, to avoid sprawl (and generally to grow as a city)? If not at transit points, then where would you put them?

    • July 1, 2011

      It may not solve every problem, such as hunger, world peace, athlete’s foot, but it doesn’t exacerbate transportation, energy, and natural system impacts to the degree that developing out at the edges of our metropolis do.

      Better is good.

      Perfect is unattainable.

    • Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
      July 1, 2011

      Glenn, it would also help with the problem of too little housing available. For example how about some family-sized units as discussed recently? Maybe some subsidized units for Roosevelt High teachers, who certainly can’t afford a single family house on their salary.

    • Dan Staley permalink
      July 1, 2011

      It solves no other problems.

      Let me guess: you aren’t a land-use, energy, public works, or engineering professional.

  2. July 1, 2011

    Seattle Population and Historic Growth

    1960 557,087 19.1%
    1970 530,831 −4.7%
    1980 493,846 −7.0%
    1990 516,259 4.5%
    2000 563,374 9.1%
    2010 608,660 8.0%
    That’s 9.25% over 50 years. That’s 422 more people per each square mile in Seattle. Everyone should do their share, not just transit stations. Every neighborhood that has a bus go through it is a transit station too.

    Let’s say for instance that in 10 years Boeing moves lock stock and barrel to South Carolina. Maybe Google buys Microsoft and relocates everything to California.

    BA – The problem that Seattle has is 1) getting people that live in Seattle to use public transit and 2) Getting people that live outside of Seattle to begin using transit when they reach the city limits.
    Transit ridership in model stations (see Orenco Station, Hillsboro OR) is said to be doing great at 20% of residents using MAX. Move 1000 new people into an urban village and 800 of them will be in their cars everyday.

    Joshua – I wish there were a way to make it possible to allow everyone, including teachers, to live anywhere they would like, but the free enterprise system doesn’t work that way. If Roosevelt teachers need to live further away than walking distance, then they are the perfect candidates to use the light rail.

    Dan -Correct. I work from a broader base.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      July 1, 2011

      Yes, the Seattle population has gone up 9% in 50 years. But the state of WA has increased in population by 170% over that time span, I’d guess mostly in the Puget Sound region (because that’s where the people are). Wow, why would so few choose to live in Seattle? The suburban strip malls must really be amazing! Actually, people want to live in Seattle, but we have restrictive zoning that doesn’t let many new people move here.

      “Maybe Google buys Microsoft and relocates everything to California.” Sure. Or let’s say Microsoft buys Google and relocates everything to Redmond. Nobody’s suggesting that we force people to move to Seattle. I just want to let more people pay to build homes here if they want to.

      ” Move 1000 new people into an urban village and 800 of them will be in their cars everyday.” You haven’t been paying attention. Approach 30 residential units per gross acre and car use plummets.

      • July 3, 2011

        I’ve gone back and reread this statistic. It seems to say that if there are 2 units per acre there are 6.5 trips per household per day or 13 trips. If there are 50 households per acre there are 1.5 trips per unit per day or 75 trips. Is there anything anywhere that says how long each of these trips are? Somehow it confirms my opinion that the more people you cram into a location the more traffic and pollution you are going to have.

    • Dan Staley permalink
      July 1, 2011

      Dan -Correct. I work from a broader base.

      That ‘broader base’ doesn’t include analysis from the disciplines I named, thus the incorrect assertion that it solves no other problems. The lack of basic knowledge in these disciplines is evident by the assertion (incorrect assertion). Philosophy informs us here as well: ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’. We got that in PHIL 101.

      That is: context. I’m not saying energetic activists don’t have their place – it is just that they should contextualize their arguments.

  3. July 1, 2011

    I’ve read that, Matt, and the point is, why is everyone so bent on the idea that Seattle’s 15-20 transit stations need to absorb the demands of the Puget Sound area. One reason everyone wants to move here is because of the great single family neighborhoods. So we build everything and destroy a few neighborhoods, who really cares. Well, for one, the people that live there.
    The sprawl has already occurred. Let Lynnwood and Kenmore and Kirklland and Renton and Fife suck up their share of population growth. Let them provide transit to Seattle’s borders where they can ride our transit.
    Adding people at transit stations just to gain ridership doesn’t solve any problems.

  4. July 1, 2011

    Dan, I guess I’m just too dense to understand how adding many more people to an already congested area solves the problem of congestion. I do agree that Roosevelt should, can, and will revitalize itself to provide for more density and do so appropriately. I do understand that if the growth density increase of an area remains constant, but the driving habits of the larger area are changed congestion will be relieved, global warming will be eased and Seattle will be a better place for it.

    • Dan Staley permalink
      July 2, 2011

      Dan, I guess I’m just too dense to understand how adding many more people to an already congested area solves the problem of congestion.

      No need to mischaracterize my argument. None at all. Zero need.

      The classic NIMBY whine is ‘traaaaaafic!!!!’. Surely we can do better.

  5. Beal permalink
    July 1, 2011

    Glenn, dude, no one believes a handful of Seattle light rail stations should shoulder the burden (nor hoard the opportunity) associated with TOD and future regional growth. Check out the Urban Land Institute’s current efforts around BRT and land use — with implications for several dozen BRT station areas in King and Snohomish Counties. Check out PSRCs Sustainable Communities work in transit corridors in Pierce, King and Snohomish — working toward equitable TOD in nearly 100 station area in the region. Check out the Growth Management Act that requires every city in the region to accommodate its share of future growth. It’s not all about Roosevelt. It’s not all about light rail. And it’s not all about Seattle.

    • July 2, 2011

      Remember “Think globally, act locally”? That got started in the 1960’s. It still holds true today. I’ll keep acting locally, trying my best to make it a better part of the whole.

      • Matt the Engineer permalink
        July 2, 2011

        I think you missed the “think globally” piece.

        • Dan Staley permalink
          July 3, 2011

          He’s spamming the thread with babble to dilute ideas. Best to ignore spam to stay on topic.

          • July 4, 2011

            Sorry, Danm for not riding the one-humped camel. I drop out of these conversations.

  6. July 3, 2011

    In re: “Good on the Seattle Planning Commission for coming out of the closet on three of Seattle’s biggest taboos: single-family zoning, parking, and building height.”
    Just for fun, I looked up Houston Zoning and this. You can read as much as you would like about their sprawl and environmentally perfect way of life.
    Good thing the Seattle Planning Commission doesn’t have more authority.

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      July 5, 2011

      I actually like the no zoning aspect of Houston. At a conference I took their light rail out to a inner suburban stop and walked around – interesting coffee shops and 2nd hand stores were interspersed with residences. It made for an eclectic and lively feel (to be fair, it was an older neighborhood and likely created before the 5,000sf per home requirement).

      What I don’t like is their massive streets, huge dead parking lots, giant blocks, and large lot sizes. Combined, these make Houston a car-only city. Note that other than our rare “Residential Small Lot” zone, Seattle’s smallest single family zone is SF5000 – 5,000 sf minimum lot size, just like Houston (we also have SF7200 and SF9600). Neighborhoods built after this zoning was created are the opposite of lively, and feel more like the suburbs than the city.

      • RossB permalink
        July 5, 2011

        Yes, smaller lots! It is about time someone talked about smaller lots. There was a study done years ago, by the Nixon administration (sorry, I can’t find it, so you’ll have to take my word for it). It looked at various ways of making housing more affordable. The thing that worked the best is smaller lots. I don’t think anything has fundamentally changed since then.

        Not only would houses on smaller lots make housing more affordable, but it would make things look nice as well. Many of the houses in the city already sit on small lots, but a lot don’t. Small houses on small lots in the city and in the suburbs would go a long way towards increasing density, making things affordable and making things nice.

      • Dan Staley permalink
        July 5, 2011

        Houston has de facto zoning with its parking requirements and several other minimums. It is closer to form-based code than Denver’s new “FBC” in many respects. I like smaller lot sizes too, but you also need to consider FAR-max lot coverage as well, else the environment can be a different kind of cr*ppy, with, say, a 5000 sf home on a 5000 sf lot. You can make your FAR such that you can ensure you don’t get a light-blocking McMansion-lined street.

        • Matt the Engineer permalink
          July 5, 2011

          Like Brooklyn? No side yards, only enough front yard for stairs, built out to the limits of the code, but beautiful and they make for lively streets.

          I’m no architect, but it seems like FAR is not a great way of getting light to the street. I’m trying to figure out why McMansions are so painful to the senses (and they are). Would brownstones be just as awful if they were all much larger?

          • Dan Staley permalink
            July 5, 2011

            I’m trying to figure out why McMansions are so painful to the senses (and they are). Would brownstones be just as awful if they were all much larger?

            One of Dan’s and my friends is working on a bike plan out here, and we rode (not Dan’l) to Stapleton in Denver. There, the McMansions on small lots look good. The brownstones look great too. In my view you expect crowding with brownstones, and that’s OK. The high FAR in the McMansions only works because of the good design – slapped up junk product from, say, Toll Bros doesn’t work because they don’t care that much. In Stapleton it all works because design was tops.

  7. Jane Jacobs permalink
    July 4, 2011

    In Triumph of the City, Ed Glaeser singles out Houston as being one of the most affordable cities for the middle class. He discusses how the lack of zoning has made it so and how there is a destructive loop in terms of housing affordability for those cities that seek to concentrate growth. If you believe his arguments, Seattle’s growth plans will make it much more unaffordable going forward.

    • Zef Wagner permalink
      July 5, 2011

      Wow, you really didn’t read his book very carefully, did you? He is one of the biggest proponents of dense development I can think of! He loves high-rise! The reason he cites Houston as an interesting example is simply to illustrate the effect of actually allowing developers to develop. Over time, with such an abundant supply of housing, costs go down and more people move there. Seattle can do the same thing with dense TOD development. It’s just up rather than out.

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