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Monday, October 20, 2008

What He Said

posted by on October 20 at 18:19 PM

Just in case your eyes aren’t bleeding from my zillion-word post on bus route changes, here’s another transit post—this one about another good reason to vote for light rail. In brief: It creates neighborhoods in a way that buses don’t and can’t. Dan Bertolet:

There have been buses running down Rainier Ave. for more than half a century, but development over those years has been unfocused and highly car-dependent. The difference between buses and fixed guideway transit is that a decade from now the oceans of asphalt parking lot surrounding the McClellan light rail station will be gone, replaced by the mixed-use residential buildings and open spaces of a vibrant new urban village. Over in Bellevue we can expect to see a similar transformation in the Bel-Red Corridor if Proposition 1 passes.

Pretty much any time light rail is proposed anywhere in the U.S, people will impugn it by reducing the total investment to a cost per ride that sounds expensive. Left out of their equation, however, are long-term, systemic and transformative effects that are not easily quantified, but are substantial nonetheless. Others deride the “light rail faithful” for supporting a transit system that doesn’t provide the direct benefit of a stop right outside their own front doors. Similarly, what’s missing with this gripe is the insight to grasp that most light rail proponents recognize the big picture benefits, and are willing to be unselfish.

The benefits of light rail aren’t just for the people who ride it. Transit transforms cities, directs neighborhood development, and makes it easier for everyone to get around—not just the people who live a block away from a transit station.

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Of course, here in Fremont, we don't have light rail but we do have bus and bike and we seem to do ok.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 20, 2008 6:33 PM

yes - developers scoop up the land and make millions and millions

good Erica, good

Posted by Jerry | October 20, 2008 6:42 PM

Silly, Erica-- development is evil. Apartments and condos are evil.

Cars good.

We should pave over the Rainier Valley!

Posted by AJ | October 20, 2008 6:47 PM

It's difficult to sell a ballot proposal on the merits of "Seattle should have it" when it needs to be approved by the entire region, and it's even harder when the argument is "be unselfish!".

Though, obviously I support light rail and have been pushing for it for years now over at the Seattle Transit Blog.

Posted by Andrew | October 20, 2008 6:50 PM

80 billion dollars for a lot of empty trains running back and forth to the airport.

Posted by John Bailo | October 20, 2008 6:58 PM

Bailo: Empty just like Dallas's.

Posted by grumpypants | October 20, 2008 7:10 PM

Light rail may not go to every front door, but pretty soon they'll be building a lot of front doors next to the stations.

Posted by Greg | October 20, 2008 7:11 PM

Right on! Developers are going to "scoop up land and make millions and millions" whether it's in the exurbs or in the city. Better that development concentrates around regional transit hubs than the sort of scattershot development we've seen on the eastside and in Snohomish County in recent years.

Posted by Hernandez | October 20, 2008 7:20 PM

You know I support light rail, heavy rail, transit in general, etc, etc, etc. But I wish to God they'd stop using cringey terms like "vibrant new urban village". No one talks like that in real life.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | October 20, 2008 7:35 PM

@9: Developers and smart growth wonks do.

"It's new urbanism! *sparkle* It's so amazing! *sparkle* It can sustain 1,000,000 people! *sparkle* It converts your waste into M&Ms! *sparkle*"

Posted by AJ | October 20, 2008 7:41 PM

If the density that comes with light rail is anything like the density we've seen developed over the last decade, I guess I should be glad Ballard isn't getting anything from ST2. That shit is ugly, and much of it has hurt the neighborhood rather than provided more "vibrancy."

Also, refusing to pay an excessive amount for a system I will never use -- and won't even reduce traffic on my frequently traveled routes -- that's not selfish. That's practical.

Posted by joykiller | October 20, 2008 7:45 PM

and all the minority folks, many on the low end wage scale, can afford all the new studios renting for 1,200 a month .... sure

I like mass transit via bus, electric trolley is the BEST

voted no - finish the first leg - show me

Posted by Jerry | October 20, 2008 8:16 PM

Most of the first leg is done: Tacoma Link Sounder and Buses. I've been on the train to the airport. It's amazing, and no one else has ever built rail transit in this city.

Posted by Andrew | October 20, 2008 8:29 PM

Andrew @ 4: the Bel-Red corridor? Not in Seattle. Nor are the majority of the improvements in the plan.

Posted by ECB | October 20, 2008 8:36 PM

Yeah it creates neighborhoods... like the East Link where they are ripping up a neighborhood in Bellevue to either A) run light-rail through it or B) use it as a staging area.

This a "Joe the Plumber" move, cherry-picking one single example and applying it broadly to all cases.

Posted by Andy | October 20, 2008 8:45 PM

Mass transit creates neighborhoods.

Posted by John Bailo | October 20, 2008 9:03 PM

@16: 1986?

Posted by AJ | October 20, 2008 9:11 PM

Will in Seattle

Even when I lived in capital hill with all its bus lines, it was a pain in the ass getting a bus to Fremont-very convoluted and time consuming route, particularly when the fremont bridge raised itself for boats. So while it may be ok commuting within fremont, commuting in or out in my experience has been a problem.

Build light rail and the mobs will come.

Posted by neo-realist | October 20, 2008 9:17 PM

@14. Hey I agree with you, sub-area equity ensures no sub-area gets a better deal than another. But voters in Graham, Puyallup or Mukilteo may not see it that way.

Posted by Andrew | October 20, 2008 9:27 PM

It's easy getting to Fremont - from anywhere except Capitol Hill.

Because, as we all know, Fremont is the Center of the Universe.

And Capitol Hill - well - it isn't.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 20, 2008 9:36 PM

Yes, Bellevue! And Redmond. And Mercer Island. And Shoreline, Mountlake Tererace, Des Moines, Federal Way, and Lynnwood.

The first line open next year and connects three cities: Seattle, Tukwila, and Sea-Tac. Mass Transit Now adds EIGHT more cities, for a total of 11. Connected not just to Seattle or the airport, but to EACH OTHER.

Add the nine cities connected by Sounder commuter rail -- which connects to LRT at King St. station, and that's 20 - TWENTY - Puget Sound cities connected to each other by something other than a clogged freeway and a stuck bus.

Vote yes, and make it so.

Posted by clarity | October 20, 2008 10:33 PM

I'm a huge huge huge supporter of light rail and Prop 1 in particular, but this just absolutely is not true. Light rail doesn't magically create, or even encourage, neighborhoods or density. Light rail often discourages density when other infrastructure isn't in place. Parking lots absolutely KILL density in areas where density is not already present. The Seattle and downtown Bellevue stations will increase density, but most of the other ST2 stations will not.

Take a look at some of the light rail stations in other nearby cities that have been around several years. There is no density anywhere to be seen:

Burnaby, BC:,+King+George+Highway,+surrey,+bc&sll=49.154248,-122.857506&sspn=0.008996,0.016909&ie=UTF8&ll=49.204105,-122.874956&spn=0.004493,0.008454&t=h&z=17

Posted by jrrrl | October 20, 2008 10:34 PM

Hillsboro, OR (MAX Light Rail):,+Hillsboro,+OR&sll=49.204105,-122.874956&sspn=0.004493,0.008454&ie=UTF8&ll=45.521184,-122.969826&spn=0.004818,0.008454&t=h&z=17

San Francisco, CA (Muni Light Rail):,+san+francisco,+ca&sll=45.521184,-122.969826&sspn=0.004818,0.008454&ie=UTF8&ll=37.760999,-122.495354&spn=0.002718,0.004227&t=h&z=18

The SF map shows some density, but this is in San Francisco. Scroll a mile or two away and there is no light rail nearby and just as much density.

I didn't cherrypick these stations, I just looked up somewhat-random stations that weren't in city centers.

Posted by jrrrl | October 20, 2008 10:41 PM

Hey, mon. It's me again. Eddie Grant!

"I wanna rock down to Electric Avenue.
And then we'll take it higher!"

Yeah, mon, I know. First I did that song, then I did Romancing the Stone. People were confused! Why did I switch from revolutionary style power pop reggae to a movie soundtrack for a 1984 ripoff of Indiana Jones? Welllll, there was a big payoff and it kept me ganga for years.

Yeah, but it ruined my career man! Now, I'm stuck in this time

Posted by Eddie Grant | October 20, 2008 11:11 PM

Jrrrl, we have no idea what those places looked like before, so how can we know that transit discouraged density in those places?

Posted by Andrew | October 20, 2008 11:22 PM

MLK - with the new surface light rail route pretty much finished and a goodly amount of new development (or, rather, SHA redevelopment) already occurring - looks a whole lot more like a mammoth freeway than it EVER did before. It is in no way a welcoming environment for pedestrians or bikers, unless you count signalized intersections across enormous stretches of concrete as "pedestrian-friendly".

An elevated system would have required far fewer property takings, and couldn't have been any uglier (you might recall there a few sets of arguments against running the line through the Rainier Valley elevated, primarily views, cost, and the lack of "redevelopment opportunities".)

OTOH, most of the longtime low-income residents who used to live and work in the neighborhood have been pushed out to points south, so I suppose the New Urbanists can hang their hat on that.

And you know what, you can see a lot more sky and get a lot more sunlight walking around a neighborhood that has lower buildings and a few parking lots than you can in one with a slew of slab sided towers built right up to the lotline.

Posted by Mr. X | October 20, 2008 11:39 PM

Jrrl, density comes when the local government zones for it, regardless of whether or not rail is nearby. To refute your statements, I suggest looking at the following pages: (Notice how dense it is around each of the Washington Metro stations. This is no accident)

Posted by Corey Burger | October 20, 2008 11:53 PM

My post got bit by the spam filter, so split out (Skytrain has made places around the stations very valuable and local governments have embraced that density. Scott Road is an abberation, as it services the suburbs.)

I am also a Green Party candidate for municipal council here in Oak Bay, a suburb of Greater Victoria, BC, Canada.

Posted by Corey BUrger | October 20, 2008 11:55 PM

Corey, 15 of the 19 ST2 light rail stations will be built in the suburbs. I know light rail stations can encourage density, but only if it's done intentionally. I have no idea if the ST2 light rail stations are smart or not, since it doesn't look like Sound Transit is releasing any detailed station plans (which makes me think they don't have any detailed plans yet). Sound Transit released very detailed station plans for last year's Rounds & Transit measure, and almost all of the stations were surrounded by Walmart-sized surface parking lots.

I still strongly support ST2 and I voted for Prop 1, but we have to encourage ST to make smart decisions when building the stations. I think the Sierra Club's opposition last year really spooked them, and there was negative talk about the huge park & ride lots that were planned.

Andrew, true, but I wasn't trying to be scientific. Some of those stations have no density to speak of, so if there was improvement, it wasn't enough to make a positive difference.

I really don't see why anyone thinks light rail stations necessarily cause more density & development than other transit stations. There are good bus stations in the area that have encouraged density (Bellevue Transit Center) and others that have discouraged density (pretty much every Park & Ride lot). Nobody wants to live or work next to a giant high traffic parking lot.

Posted by jrrrl | October 21, 2008 12:23 AM

The old park-and-ride at Northgate is now a humungous development, with some 500 residences, tens of thousands of sq ft of retail, and a 14-screen cinema being built on a single city block.

And the surface park-and-ride in Downtown Redmond was just developed into a massive mixed-use development.

I was completely against park-and-rides when I started the Seattle Transit Blog, but I learned that park-and-rides are how suburbanites get used to transit, and how they get acculumated to riding. And as long as the municipalities they are in are interested, they are prime spots for future development.

Posted by Andrew | October 21, 2008 1:43 AM

Mass transit is social engineering by delusional liberals. You'll get us out of our cars as soon as you get our guns and cigarettes out of our hands.

Give the people what they wants:

Road, baby, ROADS!

Posted by Lord Basil | October 21, 2008 2:26 AM

Oh people. Of course light rail doesn't "create" density. But transit + zoning + careful partnering with developers CAN. Jrrl has some worst-case scenarios all lined up on Google Earth, which are perfect to remind everyone that there is no such thing as simple cause-and-effect when it comes to cities.

Also, I know that Seattle has seen a lot of high-rise development lately, but there is no reason to confuse THAT with urban density! Especially in the US, where the countryside is plastered with single-family housing, just development including 3-5 level multi-family housing can be considered quite dense. Urbanity doesn't have to be associated with insanely tall shiny piles of glass and steel.

Posted by raisedbywolves | October 21, 2008 4:21 AM

i support all forms of transit. the more options the better. the city is growing and the areas surrounding the airport are full of apartments, full of blue collar workers looking for a fast way to get in the city.

wasnt the stranger opposed to light rail when it was first proposed? why the change of heart? just wondering.

Posted by SeMe | October 21, 2008 8:16 AM

Bunch of urban planners, this lot.

Posted by Rotten666 | October 21, 2008 8:21 AM

"Mass transit is social engineering by delusional liberals."

I'll buy that, other than the delusional bit. But freeway building is social engineering by delusional conservatives. You've had 70 years to get it right, and you've led us to foreign oil dependence, peak oil, sprawl, traffic, and global warming. Thanks for that.

I have a question. If not ST2 then what? More of the same?

Posted by Matt the Engineer | October 21, 2008 8:50 AM

jrrrl @30: I know light rail stations can encourage density, but only if it's done intentionally. I have no idea if the ST2 light rail stations are smart or not, since it doesn't look like Sound Transit is releasing any detailed station plans (which makes me think they don't have any detailed plans yet)…. I still strongly support ST2 and I voted for Prop 1, but we have to encourage ST to make smart decisions when building the stations.

jrrrl, I can tell you that Sound Transit does not have detailed plans or specific locations for most of those ST2 stations. The placement of those stations, the zoning around them, whether they have park-and-ride lots and what those lots will look like—all those things have to get worked out between Sound Transit and the particular municipalities. (Someone please correct me if my description is not entirely accurate.)

So yes, jrrrl, I absolutely agree that, if Prop. 1 passes, our focus has to turn to pressuring Sound Transit and the municipalities to locate those stations and develop those areas in ways that will maximize their potential. IMHO, that doesn't mean no park-and-rides; park-and-rides can be a good transitional land use; just, park-and-rides should be done in a way that doesn't choke off future development.

Posted by cressona | October 21, 2008 9:30 AM

Andrew & Cressona, I agree with you 100%. The Redmond and Northgate park and ride redevelopments are a little unusual (but encouraging). The vast majority of the dozens of park & rides in the area are still sparse sprawl. Another encouraging example is the park & ride lot in Roosevelt at NE 65th Way and I-5, but all three of these examples are in already-dense neighborhoods. Of course, there are no light rail stations at any of these places, so the increased density there had nothing to do with a special characteristic of light rail.

Raisedbywolves, I agree also, but we're building light rail stations in existing population centers, not in the countryside. We don't need skyscrapers on Mercer Island, but walkable housing and retail would be nice.

Also, honestly, I did not look up "worst case scenarios" -- I only searched for one light rail station in each of those systems, and I only looked for stations that were outside of city centers and had station names that were easy to google map. :]

Here's another rail station a little closer to home -- the Tukwila Sounder commuter rail station that's already up and running. Discouraging, unfortunately. (I should have been using Live maps all along!)

Posted by jrrrl | October 21, 2008 11:11 AM

Given all the words about SoundTransit (and the Stranger's 180 degree flipflop on the subject), I think you should be on the ST payroll.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | October 21, 2008 11:17 AM

Sometimes I wonder if people think traffic congestion will just disappear if you pretend it isn't happening. The infrastructure for mass transit is not optional any more. And we have to start with something. We should have started with the goddam Forward Thrust 40 years ago, but the naysayers and NIMBYs and the idiots who don't like the flavor of the soup unless they've pissed in it first killed that off.

For crissakes people, nothing is going to be PERFECT. Sorry, but people drive to train stations, and their cars have to be stored somewhere for the day. Sorry, but all freeways aren't going to disappear. Sorry, but all train stations aren't going to be happy little flowery meadows surrounded by bunnies and butterflies. We have to start somewhere. Not everyone can live within walking/biking distance of their workplace - sometimes there are (gasp!) married couples who DO NOT WORK IN THE SAME CITY! I know, inconceivable. But where do those folks live?

I love the morons claiming that we'll have empty trains. Go ride the Sounder, you dumbasses. I rode it all last week, because I had a class downtown. Some of the trains were standing-room-only, and none were anywhere approaching empty. I *heart* the Sounder. Takes 28 minutes from Auburn, is never ever late, and is definitely cheaper, easier, faster, and less stressful than driving and parking. If I worked in downtown - I don't - I'd take it every day rather than driving. I can't wait for the light rail to the airport - not because it'll directly benefit me right away - it won't - but because once people get used to that, maybe the proper links will be built to the Sounder, so one can transfer from one train to the other.

The biggest problem we have with mass transit in this area right now is that the disparate systems - Sounder, Light Rail, Metro, Sound Transit buses, the ferry, Community Transit, and Pierce County Transit - don't interconnect well at all. The schedules and the stations aren't matched properly. That's getting better, but it still isn't correct.

I'm sick to death of the Kemper Freeman acolytes thinking we can pave our way out of congestion. I'm equally sick of the Green Taliban thinking we shouldn't build commuter rail because no one should live more than two blocks from their workplace and cars should be banned. No plan is going to be perfect enough for either group of extremists, and unfortunately, we lack the political leadership in this area to tell both fringes to fuck off, this is what we're implementing.

Posted by Geni | October 21, 2008 12:56 PM

@4, yup, you make me realize "unselfish" was a poor choice of words. Obviously, the big picture benefits help everyone. It's not unselfish to want a planet with a stable climate system. I'll have to have a chat with my editor.

Posted by dan bertolet | October 21, 2008 1:46 PM

"An elevated system would have required far fewer property takings, and couldn't have been any uglier (you might recall there a few sets of arguments against running the line through the Rainier Valley elevated, primarily views, cost, and the lack of "redevelopment opportunities".)"

Classic Mr. X - aka NIMBY activist Matt Fox. He wants a transit system which WON'T encourage redevelopment. You know, like a freeway through the city. Make it ugly enough, and loud enough...that will keep people from living here!

"OTOH, most of the longtime low-income residents who used to live and work in the neighborhood have been pushed out to points south, so I suppose the New Urbanists can hang their hat on that."

Uh, yeah. Notice how the same thing happened to Matt Fox's north Seattle neighborhood decades ago. And it wasn't because of light rail. I blame light rail for cancer, too.

[i]And you know what, you can see a lot more sky and get a lot more sunlight walking around a neighborhood that has lower buildings and a few parking lots than you can in one with a slew of slab sided towers built right up to the lotline.[/i]

Matt Fox lives in the city, but doesn't like tall buildings or density. Matt Fox wants a human scale city he can drive all over...and park where he wants for cheap. Matt Fox is fighting expansion of the University of a time when the school isn't able to keep up with current demand of incoming students.

Do you ever get the feeling this guy picks fights he KNOWS he will lose?????

Posted by CAVEdwellersAgainstChange | October 21, 2008 5:07 PM


So you're in favor of displacing long-time low-income residents with new development, and using mass transit and/or upzoning as a means to do so.

How kind of you to make that clear.

Posted by Mr. X | October 22, 2008 1:57 PM

You know, it takes a lot more work (and balls) to take on the big fights than it does to call people names anonymously on a blog, but thanks for making it clear that you're perfectly comfortable with displacing long-time low-income residents so you can impose your "vision" on them.

We still have lots of lower-income folks in the north end, by the way, despite the best efforts of people who share your view that all new density and/or development is an intrinsic good in and of itself.

Posted by Mr. X | October 22, 2008 3:15 PM

Oops, sorry for the redundancies in post 43 and 44, it seemed like #43 had been eaten by cyber monsters so I reposted...

Posted by Mr. X | October 22, 2008 3:24 PM

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