Transit, alleys and density

The King County “Proposition 1″ transportation measure is Tuesday. Calling this a crucial “yes” is a huge understatement. Since it’s also a special election that may have low turnout, every vote (your vote) is magnified. Why is it crucial? For starters:

Protect our bus service

- It’s about restoring lost Metro funding, and avoiding a major reduction in service. This isn’t additional.

- Metro ridership has recovered to peak levels of 400,000 per day, and many routes are jammed. Metro serves the large majority of local transit trips.

- Street maintenance is important too. Forty percent of the funding will go to streets.

- Many people rely on transit to get to work or school, and have no other means. That’s important to the rest of us too – society and businesses function better when people of moderate means can live decently, attend school, etc.

- Transit use keeps cars off the street, helping drivers.

- Urban cores need good transit to function, and we rely on these cores as economic engines – not just Downtown Seattle, the U-District, and Downtown Bellevue but every other sizeable employment and population node.

Yes, it’s a few dollars per year, and King County Metro hasn’t achieved perfection. They’re a vital service that most people in the region rely upon either directly or indirectly. Road maintenance isn’t glamorous but it’s needed and woefully underfunded. This is a good measure. Please vote!

On another topic, here’s hoping the City eases up on alley vacations for development projects. Of course alleys are public property and the public should get fair return. But alleys exist for the current and future occupants of each block, and if the block is a single development with its own loading dock there’s no other purpose, especially if the developers are adding public access. The current process and climate results in uncertainty and delay, which can cost a project millions just for the wasted time. For projects that get a “no” or simply avoid pursuing a vacation entirely, the result can be a much costlier or cancelled project. Parking garages, for example, can be efficient on a large site but grossly inefficient and expensive on a half-block that isn’t large enough for two double-loaded aisles. Thankfully the project in West Seattle seems to be getting a good decision. Hedreen’s big hotel and apartment project should also. Shouldn’t we want (aside from lesser-Seattleites) to add to Seattle’s meeting business, tourism, and tax base? Visitors are also a huge percentage of Downtown retail sales and museum attendance, and we’re losing out because our hotels fill up during much of the year. The project would add a large amount of affordable housing and public amenities.

A recent Seattle Times column by Danny Westneat expressed his worry about apartments planned near his office. This brought up a common refrain, that housing in Greater Downtown could cause strain on roads and parking. I suggest that the opposite is true. New residents in Greater Downtown are often people who already work here, and are turning long commutes into short ones. Further, residents walk to work far more often than driving, according to the US Census 2012 ACS – walking at rates of 47.6% for 98101, 34.1% for 98104, and 32.3% for 98121, and driving alone at 22.0%, 21.0% and 38.1% rates, and those numbers include reverse commuters! The rest is mostly transit. The multi-block job Westneat was concerned about should reduce transportation stress rather than adding to it. Add the tens of millions it’ll pay in height bonus fees and sales taxes and it’s a major positive. People want to live close-in, and with jobs increasing in Greater Downtown it’s all the more important that housing help keep commuter numbers from getting out of hand. Which is another reason to vote yes for transit!

  • XtianG

    Bravo. Well said. Sadly, Danny Westneat got this one totally wrong; he needs an education in smart urban planning and development, for sure.

  • Mike

    $60 additional for each vehicle is a bit steep. King county Metro keeps pulling in huge sums of money, but it’s not managed well. metro has already said that the service interruptions will probably not need to be as severe as once thought. Sounds like they didn’t plan this one out very well. They need to fix their problem before we give them more money.

  • Joseph Wolf

    I don’t agree with all of Westneat’s points … or Fox’s. But Fox does make a good point about impact fees to support school capacity generated by residential development. Currently the city does not collect one (SPS can’t). I think that needs to change.

    Full disclosure: I am the K-12 Planning Coordinator for Seattle Public Schools.