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More Yellow Stripes

Dec 30, 2023Dec 30, 2023

The “regional goal” has changed since ST 1, 2 and 3.

ST 1 was clearly designed to bring riders into the urban core in Seattle (and UW except ST ran out of money). When planning for ST 2 got serious in 2004 the plan was to take eastsiders into downtown Seattle, and maybe some westsiders to Microsoft, which is why there are so many park and rides and the east–west express buses were so full. In 2004 there was no doubt the benefit to Bellevue was connecting to Seattle, not the other way around, and Seattle was one of the fastest rising cities in the world.

This was before even the PSRC’s 2035 Vision Statement which is when regional planners began to espouse the “urban village” concept. In this concept more folks would work near where they live or in TOD. In fact, the GMPC allocates job growth goals to cities along with housing targets, although cities don’t know how to meet those goals because you can’t really zone jobs. I am sure that if Amazon wanted to move a few thousand highly paid workers to MI the council would not object, but it doesn’t. So the GMPC does not enforce jobs targets.

Of course, no one listened to the PSRC, and the PSRC was heavily influenced by ST and progressive idealistic planners. Eastsiders were not going to move to TOD with their families and dog, or to Seattle to be closer to their job, and employers were unwilling to open satellite offices in cities like MI or implement work from home technology.

Along the way ST 3 passed which was really to complete ST 2 with a bunch of projects designed to sell ST 3, not any kind of well thought out transit, and it also is heavily oriented toward Seattle including subarea contribution for a second tunnel through Seattle, and maybe Tacoma and Everett, but how many folks in those regions are going to drive or bus to a Link station to go to Everett. Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Tacoma? Shoreline and MLT were not dreaming of commuters to Lynnwood or Everett when they accepted higher than required GMPC housing targets for TOD along Link.

So the PSRC adopted its 2050 Vision Statement in 2021 that was similar to the 2035 Statement and was obsolete the day it was adopted, with the same stuff about TOD and dispersing jobs throughout the three counties and living next to where you work in the middle of a pandemic.

What has most undermined ST and the PSRC is not WFH, but the fact the estimated future population growth looks like it isn’t coming. The three counties are nearly 6500 sq miles, and the reality is very little of it has the density for light rail, which is slow, and usually requires a transfer which riders hate. People don’t want to live in TOD, or take transit unless they absolutely have to. Lynnwood is not going to become Bellevue, and neither are Tacoma or Everett. Other than U Dist. to CID, and maybe Bellevue Way, no other area has the density for intra-city light rail, even T-Link.

The second thing that has undermined the PSRC’s vision and all of transit is the demise of downtown Seattle, which began pre-pandemic. It isn’t coming back and yet we have a regional Link system designed around Seattle, including two tunnels. The current council has an 8% approval rating, which I think is 8% too high. Seattle and San Francisco will be examples taught for decades about how bad policies can kill great cities.

So I agree with Tom: it was foolish to spend nearly $100 billion to connect Tacoma to Everett to Redmond with mostly nothing in between, even befroe the pandemic or demise of downtown Seattle, with very slow rail with lots of stops. These are different cities with different demographics that don’t mix that often. If they were going to be connected, they need less expensive and faster rail, or express buses. You don’t spend billion to connect Fife with Federal Way, let alone Everett to Redmond when very few are going to the stops along the way.

Now nothing matches. WFH and the demise of downtown Seattle has undermined Link. People do live closer to where they work, in fact they live where they work with WFH, but that has been a disruptor the PSRC never anticipated, or really wanted because it was so urban oriented. If anything the area has de-urbanized, while ironically making fewer trips, the main goal of the PSRC. Future population growth in the region looks flat, and dispersing to SnoCo and Pierce Co.

Tax revenue has been reallocated from urban centers to where folks live and work. Downtown Seattle cannot survive with a 44% occupancy rate because the property owners will default, and banks don’t know how to run those buildings that can’t be shut for long or else like the city and county buildings they can’t be reopened. Many of the Link stations are not where folks live — especially ST 2 and 3, but must drive to and park to go someplace, which of course like Sounder S was downtown Seattle. Uber miles driven is exploding. Microsoft has abandoned 2 million sf of satellite office space, Google isn’t building a campus, Amazon has space for 80,000 employees in Seattle and Bellevue but is laying off employees, and 2023 looks like the new normal.

Progressive planners and politicians, especially in Seattle, thought they could zone and control the future, and make folks do what they don’t like to do. Imagine if someone had told the PSRC or Seattle City Council in 2016 this would be the future. I doubt they would have listened. They are still denying this is the new normal.