The TOD Challenge: How do we make a circle from a line? (Part 1 in a series)

We have spent the last half century designing our cities based on the premise that folks will live in single-use residential neighborhoods and drive their cars to go to work, school, shopping, etc. The result is that our cities, even those that were developed well before the automobile conquered the nation, are left with retail and commercial uses along arterials, abutted by residential one block to either side. In Seattle, we take this one step further with our exclusionary single-family land use code that basically relegates multifamily development to arterials as well.

In contrast, TOD asks us to rethink urban form to create nodes of development encircling high-capacity transit station areas. [Note: lower-capacity transit, like buses on a 15-30 minute headway calls for more of a “corridor” approach that I hope to explore later in this series.] Ideally we want to draw a ½ mile, or 5-minute walk, radius around the station, and then fill-in the circle with a variety of mixed-use medium to high density development. Pedestrian amenities are critical. Getting to the station on foot is paramount and should be the path of least resistance – i.e. no one wants to have to walk through massive surface parking lots to get to the station; sidewalks should be wide and safe, and streetscapes should be active. This is all easy to do when developing greenfields, but how do we do it in existing cities?

Case in point: Beacon Hill, a low density neighborhood minutes from downtown with phenomenal potential for views. They’ve got a new branch library and Jefferson Park is a stone’s throw away. And they’ve got a light rail station set to open in a year. So what is the prospect for TOD in Beacon Hill? Take a gander at this map of current land uses in the station area to get an idea:

Or visit here if you want to see the underlying zoning.

There is basically one arterial, Beacon Avenue, that is largely underdeveloped to its modest NC-40’ zoning. When you exit the future light rail station at Beacon Avenue, you see this:

The majority of the station area is zoned for single-family [denoted by the light pinkish color in the map above], which makes one wonder why a station is being sited here at all. [Long story short: Beacon Hill wasn’t supposed to get a station because the neighborhood said no upzones, but when the First Hill station got nixed and suddenly there was money leftover, decision-makers apparently forgot that Beacon Hill wasn’t supposed to get a station without agreeing to some upzones…and they gave them the station anyway.]

But here is the point…there ain’t no way to turn this neighborhood into a transit-oriented community that can properly support the multi-billion dollar investment that has been dropped in its lap without upzoning a good deal of single-family properties. And that is going to be uncomfortable for many people in Seattle. The residents in Beacon Hill have come a long way since the mid-1990’s: at a recent neighborhood charrette some local residents agreed to going up to 85’ at the Red Apple site, and upzoning all along Lander Street to create an east-west neighborhood commercial corridor. This is all a good start, but a long way from what the city, the region, and the transit system needs to happen in this station area. So…how do we get the neighborhood to support a much more significant upzone? And if the neighborhood can’t get there, how does a city infamous for lengthy process and compromise do the upzone anyway?

79 Responses to “The TOD Challenge: How do we make a circle from a line? (Part 1 in a series)”

  1. cale

    This is obscene. They really need to be building AT LEAST 6-8 story buildings around the station.

  2. Sabina Pade

    I would think Beacon Hill a very tough nut for Team Density to crack. It’s too close to downtown for the advantages of a dedicated-right-of-way transit system to be convincingly apparent. Residents currently living there can be adequately served by Metro bus. If they’re comfortable with the present single-family zoning, they’ve little incentive in the form of shortened commuting times for accepting upzoning.

    The light-rail station, deep underground, will be costly to operate. In the absence of significant usership, it will generate a troublesome operating deficit.

    TOD at Beacon Hill? DOA, for the time being.

    Leave the Beacon Hill station shuttered until residents will agree to extensive upzoning in exchange for its opening. Meanwhile, concentrate on battles that can be, and imperatively need to be won – in South Downtown, MLK, Capitol Hill, First Hill/Downtown re-connection…

  3. Sara N

    I think there are a lot of other compelling arguments for TOD that may resonate with neighborhoods, even the likes of Beacon Hill. Regardless of transit accessibility, most neighborhoods in Seattle like the idea of “compact and walkable” development patterns. The climate change / land use connection makes sense to people, and there are more new neighborhood based climate action groups than I can count. Then there is the whole land efficiency/growth management argument, which makes sense to some…e.g. giving neighborhoods some control through neighborhood planning over where they want new growth to go in their neighborhoods. Then there is housing affordability, and the fact that the greater variety of housing types found in more dense mixed-use areas will lead to a better spectrum of housing prices, and a more diverse and equitable community. And then there is the neighborhood commercial economic development argument — more people will help support the local non-chain retail that they want to retain. Will all of these arguments resonate with Beacon Hill? Not sure. But assuming that ST and the city arent going to board-up the station, I hope they work hard to make a comprehensive case for upzones to the neighborhood.

  4. Matt the Engineer

    I’m with Sabina. Maybe even go as far as opening the station, get people used to it, then threaten to take it away unless they upzone.

    But at least ask for an upzone first, for the circle indicated above. All they can do is say “no”.

  5. Dan Staley

    Speaking of Sustainable and this topic,

    PlaceMatters is doing a sustainable urbanism webinar series starting June 19th, and the fee covers Doug Farr’s new book (which I have, it’s good).

    Future seminars by his firm:

    Future Session Topics

    * Adopting the 2030 Challenge in Your Community
    * Increasing Sustainability Through Density
    * Sustainable Corridors
    * Linking humans to nature including walk-to open spaces and local food production
    * Building high-performance neighborhoods including district energy systems
    * LEED ND and Sustainable Urbanism

  6. Finishtag

    This raises some great points. It jives with my current pet issue which is zoning that wouldn’t allow what exists now to be built in the future. For example, most Capitol Hill 4-story brick apartment buildings are in low-rise zoning. This needs to change. (one correction: most people consider a 1/2 mile radius a 10-minute walk, but a 5-minute run)

  7. Sabina Pade

    To successfully advocate density, I think we need arguments that bypass altruism.

    My Home = My Castle = A Single-Family House Sitting Within A Grassy Green Garden, Surrounded By A Strong Fence Protecting My Spouse And I, Our 1.7 Children, Our Two Cars, A Dog And A Cat.

    Density = Downtown = Crime, Pollution, Noise, Drugs, Undesireable People As Our Neighbours, High Property Taxes, Bad Schools, Homeless People Sleeping On Park Benches, Expensive Shopping And No Parking.

    To people such as myself, who have never owned a car, and likely most of the readers of this blog, density is a no-brainer. We’re intuitively attracted to it.

    Most Americans don’t see the world our way, however. Only a small minority of Americans have lived in happily dense urban environments, here or overseas. And herein, I think, lies the difficulty.

    For most Americans, the notion of shifting from single-family to a more dense urban environment is associated with sacrifice and discomfort, even danger.

    Which is why I think our first task is not to try to save the world, but to concentrate on creating ever-expanding areas, within our existing cities, that are so attractive to live in that even a suburbanite could do it.

    I dream of the day when Mr & Mrs Redmond McMansion + kids and dog will come to Capitol Hill, nod their heads, sell their Hummer, and stay.

  8. Dan Staley

    I dream of the day when Mr & Mrs Redmond McMansion + kids and dog will come to Capitol Hill, nod their heads, sell their Hummer, and stay.

    Some will, many won’t. Some will come kicking and screaming when they tire of the gas prices. Others, like Matt’s family (told on another blog), won’t know what hit them and won’t know what to do. So there has to be choices for everyone, as not everyone will live in density. There will be some demand for SFD in the future, much more demand for denser housing as long as it has some privacy (European 3-stories in the smaller cities, with 4 dwelling units is a good start).

  9. schottsie

    Correction: the yellow line on the map delineates a 1/4 mile radius (5 minute walk) of the station, not the 1/2 mile that I mentioned above.

  10. David

    I heard a woman on the bus today saying “I don’t want to live above a store, I don’t want to live above a restaurant, I don’t want to live above anything!” referring to all of the mixed use buildings we’ve been seeing with residences above retail.

    Although at first I thought she was just being a whiner, I realized that I kind of agree with her. I love my neighborhood on Capitol Hill because it’s dense but also fairly quiet and residential. I think it’s important to point out to skeptics that adding density does not and should not mean adding ground floor retail into every new residential building, although that seems to be what is happening around the city.

    I see no problem with having some areas/ streets be exclusively residential, as long as they close to retail/ commercial. I think keeping some separation will help many people feel more comfortable with density.

  11. Sara N

    David – I think that is a great point. A mixed-use neighborhood doesnt mean that every building in the neighborhood should be mixed-use. And especially when we are talking about more traditional residential neighborhoods like the Beacon Hill example, it is important to use the NC zones to create neighborhood “main streets” along arterials like Beacon and Lander, but then let the side streets remain residential (although at a density to allow some townhomes/duplexes, low and midrises).

  12. Josh Mahar

    Another possibility is having some sort of incentive for people who own and operate the stores in the building, to live in that same building. Perhaps some kind of two for one property tax (although they will likely not own the commercial space), or a reduced rent or something.

    I like what Sabina and Sara are saying here. It seems like DPD just needs to get Beacon Hill residents really involved in the development process. Not just jump on them and say upzone or else! We need to show them the beauty that density can bring and even let them help design it. Perhaps letting them put in a nice community square near the station (with new Pro-Parks funds?) or a very specific zoning area for where they want commercial vs. residential, or allowing them to put in increased sidewalks or designate specific design criteria for certain areas. Who knows, just allow them to get involved and imagine their own little European vista up on the hillside.

  13. Hey wait

    I heard from a City OH staff member that transit area upzones aren’t coming before the Council until 2009.

    I predict it’s too little; I know it’s too late.

  14. Sara N

    Too little and too late compared to what should have happened 5-10 years ago, yes…but it’s just in time if we think about how little and how late waiting another 5-10 years would mean.
    Will upzones get to Council in 2008? 2009? Will they take 3 months or 3 years to get through Council? It’s not clear right now, and it will largely depend on the ratio of those opposed to upzones v those in support. So my loud message to Council is: we need meaningful upzones now. The more other folks can chime in when these issues hit Council, the better.

  15. Dan Staley

    My experience in the ~5 years I spent in western WA is that three years to get thru Council is optimistic. Does anything get done in Seattle in a reasonable amount of time? (rhetorical question).

  16. David

    “I don’t want to live above a store, I don’t want to live above a restaurant, I don’t want to live above anything!”

    I could see not wanting to live above a noisy bar or a something that attracts hooligans, but in general, I can’t relate to that mindset. I live above a coffee shop and a small independent restaurant; neither makes the slightest bit of noise. It feels no different from living in any other apartment, except I know that there are over a dozen shops within a 1-block radius. (And with all the eyes on the street level, I imagine it’s even safer.) The overall feel is still of a residential area, so it seems like the ideal balance to me.

    Plus, it’s actually kind of amusing to relate the story to my out of town friends: “how stereotypical–I move to Seattle, and my building comes with its own coffee shop!”

  17. litlnemo

    There *was* some upzoning done on Beacon Hill to prepare for the transit station. Sure, most of it was to NC40, but that is an increase from the single-family housing zoning that was there previously.

    My house is one of the properties that was upzoned, so I know.

    But no one seems to be in any hurry to invest on the hill to take advantage of the new zoning, which is odd.

  18. uppergeorgetowner

    Beacon Hill has changed very little in the last 20 years; this is not a function of resistence to upzoning, but rather lack of investment in the area that would drive the need for upzoning. That has nothing to do with the people who live there or their willingness to entertain zoning changes. The neighborhood is sufficiently diverse to limit organization to resist or support anything.

    It is widely known that development follows transit, not the other way around. So investing in the station makes sense.

    Plus, there is already probably higher transit ridership as a percentage to total population in South Seattle neighborhoods than others. Contrary to the comment above, Beacon Hill is rather poorly served by transit; busses are crowded, inconsistent and nearly non-existent at night to most neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some of the statements here are condescending and classist and illustrate the prevailing biases about certain neighborhoods which have deemed them less attractive for investment. And Seattle is so ‘progressive’.

  19. ng

    Wow. I can’t believe some of these comments. As a Beacon Hill resident I can assure you it is NOT well-served by Metro. While my commute to my downtown office would be abot 8-10 minutes by car, it takes me 45 minutes to over an hour on a bus that runs only every 30 minutes. My coworkers from Bellevue have a shorter bus commute than me… I’ve been waiting for the light rail (and better bus service to the new station hopefully).

  20. SaltinesGirl

    “…there ain’t no way to turn this neighborhood into a transit-oriented community…”

    Have you ever taken a bus to or from Beacon Hill? There are three. Just three. Have you tried to get a seat on one the routes? No, since they are always FULL. How long does a 3 mile ride from Beacon Hill to Downtown take? About 40 minutes. How long from Downtown to Beacon Hill at 5pm? Over an hour.

    So, before you recommend the city force zoning on a neighborhood you seem not to really know that much about – how about you:
    1. Do a little research – I think you’ll find that ridership is VERY high on Beacon Hill.

    2. Increased density doesn’t mean that people will take the bus. Been to LA recently?

    3. Let the station open and then see what happens. You can’t call it broke, until we know for sure.

    4. Go for a walk on Beacon Hill – we still don’t have sidewalks in our entire neighborhood. Does yours?

  21. schottsie

    SaltinesGirl @ 20:
    1) There is no question that bus ridership is high in Beacon Hill, as it is throughout SE Seattle. But filling three bus routes [very low capacity transit] is not the same thing as filling light rail on 7-minute headways [very high capacity transit]. The train can handle a lot more than current Beacon Hill will provide.
    2) Increasing density is a means to several ends…increased ridership (of the train, not the buses) is only one of them. Density will also help support a stronger neighborhood business district and will provide more housing options for people who rely on transit. It helps reduce carbon gas emissions by giving people options other than single-occupancy vehicles and $5 gas. It reduces resource consumption because compact development patterns result in lower per capita energy and water use. It is a better use of limited infill land resources and directs development away from the urban fringe. And it will help create the concentrated demand for better urban amenities, such as sidewalks and greenspace.
    3. Until we know for sure…hmmm, I guess we should ignore similar cases from every other city with high capacity transit in the whole world and just wait and see. Considering a rezone will take a year (optimistic) to get through the city, and considering development usually takes at least three…I think we have already waited long enough.
    4. No my entire neighborhood does not have sidewalks. I wish it did. I wish my neighborhood was getting light rail too…but it is predominantly single family and really doesn’t have the density to support such an investment. So I am encouraging density in my neighborhood instead–along the arterials and in the single family areas as well. I hope that amenities like sidewalks and transit will follow–or more realistically, I hope that when money is available for amenities such as transit and sidewalks, that my neighborhood will be a higher-priority area because of the number of people that would be served.

  22. mahalie

    As someone who works in a major planning firm downtown, a bus/biker who gave up owning a car almost a decade ago AND a new Beacon Hill resident I just want to echo uppergeorgetowner.

    It’s funny many of you think the diverse folks are sitting around in cafes talking about keeping the zoning codes SF. Not so! And already served by Metro, too close to downtown to use LR? Pshaw! I moved there BECAUSE of light rail.

    No need to get all preoccupied with what you think East siders with SUVs should or ought to do either…gas prices and the reality of shrinking resources will make changes no amount of academic whining or even proactive advocation could.

    What community resistance there is to MF housing, in my experience, is first – very normal resistance to change. Well, we have to work with that…but there’s also a valid concern that these big boxy build to maximum envelope allowance with minimum character developments detract from the neighborhood. Valid in may cases. It need not be this way, there ARE good examples out there. What we need is $5/gallon gas, stringent design review AND up-zoning.

    In any case, up-zoning is inevitable. Look at what happened in Ballard. I can tell you there were plenty of concerned locals who were squashed…

  23. J

    as a beacon hill resident who lives a few blocks from the station, i totally agree that we should upzone the area along beacon ave and other arterials near the station.

    but i think we should be careful about upzoning the entire area. i live across the street from a house that sits on an 8,000 sf lot, which would be a prime candidate for upzoning. it could seriously hurt my property value (not to mention my lifestyle) if townhouses or condos went up there. some of you will dismiss me as a nimby, but it’s important to remember the rights of individual property owners when we start talking about sweeping new zoning changes.

  24. Caffeinated

    Another Beacon Hill resident here, and I actually moved to Beacon Hill just a year ago, buying new construction within a couple of blocks of the proposed light-rail station – in part BECAUSE of the light rail! There are many Beacon Hillers (especially those investing in the area in the last several years) who are interested in seeing the neighborhood continue to grow and develop, and that don’t believe it has to lose all of its unique charm to do so. I definitely believe that there is a movement here that is supportive of the right kind of growth and development here.

  25. Norsk

    I used to live in Ballard and see what it has become. It is a bunch of ugly buildings that all look alike and are bland. Get developers to build nice brick buildings like we see on Queen Anne and Capital Hill and I am for it.
    The residents here have supported more development along Beacon Avenue but all we have seen are some sad square boxes with a few planks of wood slapped on for “interest’. The city will grow and fill in but to wait until then to build a station here is like waiting to build light rail to start with- poor planning. it also smacks of elitism to deny development because it does not resemble a “sensible urban environment.” It would not be built if we waited. The Sky Train in Vancouver faced the same criticism when it had a station built in Yaletown and now it is a major center. The development followed.

  26. schottsie

    J@23: So you don’t think public policy should impact your property value? Tell me, what impact has light rail had on your property value? Perhaps you would support a single-family-homes-in-station-areas-excise -tax to even things out. Sorry, you wont get much sympathy from me. Call me crazy, but I happen to think that public policy should be governed by the public good, not compromised by an individual land owner’s desire to not have his/her lifestyle cramped.

    Norsk@25 and others: Yes development will follow the transit. That is not always how it works (in suburban Portland sometimes the housing and jobs went in first, then the transit). The problem is that investment is likely to start soon, and in many station areas it already has…and the zoning does not reflect the long term needs for neither the transit system nor the city.

  27. Allison

    Wow, lots of attitude here, isn’t there? Article and first posts indicate a lack of actual familiarity with Beacon Hill and the South end in general. We have lots of lower income, working class residents, many of whom pack the standing rom only, un-air-conditioned busses in and out of downtown, and most of whom have neither time nor interest to oppose zoning changes as the author seems to suggest.

    I have lived on BH for 8 years now, am about 3 blocks from the new station, and am eagerly awaiting its opening so I can take the train to my job 3 miles away in downtown Seattle. Hmm… living close to work, isn’t that what progressive folks are supposed to do to be deemed worthy?

    In my 8 years here, I’ve never heard any neighborhood scuttlebut opposing density or development, other than the same concerns voiced in other neighborhoods about the proliferation of cheap, design-challenged skinnies and town houses. In fact, because of our lower-income tendencies, the South end in general is home to lots of fairly dense subsidized housing such as New Holly and a lot of stuff closer in along 23rd and MLK.

    Furthermore, I’ve been pleased in the past 6-12 month to see some hints of improvements along the Beacon Ave commercial area 1/2 mile in either direction of the station, suggesting folks are gearing up for the potential business brought by the future ridership. But it’s unrealistic to expect that a plethora of businesses will sprout up years in advance of the opening and survive until that time. The improvements are modest but optimistic – the Red Apple grocery remodel, the Gallaxie sandwich shop, Buggy kids consignment, and the Culinary Communion cooking school come to mind.

    I think most in our neighborhood are relieved that investment is finally coming our way. We haven’t been blocking it. Just waiting for people to recognize the fabulous area just South of the City, where it’s still not so fashionable to live. I think the unfortunate thing about this article and subsequent posts, is the implication that the neighborhood somehow wrangled something we don’t deserve and that we’re a bunch of ungrateful ner do wells for failing to demand zoning changes to make ourselves worthy in the eyes of I’m not sure who… Developers decide where to build, and we can hardly be blamed as a neighborhood that they’ve chosen elsewhere. Although, if you do take more time to familiarize yourself with the area, you will also find a fair number of older 3 or 4 story apartment buildings all along Beacon Ave, 15th, 17th, etc. stretching into downtown to to imply we’re a huge swath of single family housing is also misinformed.

    So go for it. Propose zoning changes. I haven’t heard any one oppose them. We will just want to be sure they are as reasonable as any other neighborhood would expect.

  28. George Robertson

    The nice thing about not being part of a land use decision process is that it is so easy for you to second guess what got done. The City will have no difficulty at all rezoning Beacon Hill, regardless of what the residents say or do. If you knew much of anything about the history of development policy on the Hill you would know that.

    The City will show up offering a bunch of public meetings , which will be well attended and then the meetings will be followed by the City doing precisely what ever they intended to do before they called the first meeting. They always do that up here. Having sat through easily a hundred such events, I can testify that, with the exception of the work on Jefferson park planned by the near militant Jefferson Park Alliance, there is never any relation between the views expressed by the locals and what eventually gets done.

    The city could rezone the hilltop RM-MD (read your history) and build the original vision of the Denny Regrade here if they wanted to. Will they? Not likely. They did not even build it in the Denny Regrade. They lost their nerve and down zoned it after about the fourth or fifth high building got built.

    The problem lies at City hall, not on Beacon Hill. The Council fears the public will rise up and eject them from office should they threaten the divine right of the upper classes to reside in sacred single family houses within ten minutes drive time of city center. The Beacon hill folk are not upper class, so what happens here does not really count, except in a wierd backdoor way. People on Queen Anne Hill or in Lauralhurst think they might be asked to suffer what ever gets talked about for up here, and pretty soon the Council gets jittery and whatever high density was being considered up her goes away. In the Vietnam war years, we called that the Domino theory.

    The Transit station on Beacon Hill was not some undeserved prize we won, it was the result of the constructors needing a huge hole (big enough to drop that grocery store in) to access the tunnel project from mid-tunnel to speed construction. It was so cheap to add the tunnel station that the City relented and added it. Never mind that if the line ever runs at the advertised capacity there will be no room on the train for anyone to board inbound at this last too-close stop before downtown in the AM peak hour. And never mind that the total ridership capacity of the whole light Rail line traversing the station is identical to the ridership today on the 36 bus route which serves the whole central ridge of Beacon Hill from oh so many stops with in a short walk of many thousands of homes not just one tunnel stop 160 feet underground serving maybe a hundred homes around one intersection. Worrying about the node right around Beacon Station is stupid. Lets worry about the 36 and 38 route corridors and how to maximize all the massive development potential in the many emerging pedestrian oriented retail nodes along both. The 38 route corridor could be extended to reach the I-90 flyer stop creating direct employment zone connections to from the east side and the 21 bus routes north and south on First Avenue could make routing connections to thousands of north and south end jobs thru downtown unnecessary, greatly relieving the over load on the 36 route. Those two routes exist today and intersect at Mclellan and Beacon Ave S. fix the 38 route and things will change fast up on Beacon Hill. The light rail? Well someday some few will use it to go to the airport or maybe to the UW or Northgate if that leg ever gets built. But right now, what capitalist would bet on that? You have to make the mortgage payments next month, you can’t do that with people who might show up in eight or ten years. If you want a village to sprout on the ridge around Mclellan and Beacon Ave S. anytime soon, or if you want people to get serious about a rezone, the transportation incentives to make that make economic, developmental and environmental sense have rubber tires and are about 40 feet long.

  29. BJW

    Another thing left out of this discussion is the Beacon Hill Urban Village specified in the neighborhood plan developed 10 years ago and still mostly ignored by the city. This plan sites larger development beginning just north of your map and continuing north to PACMed. The staion was sited after that planning because of the need for a ventalation duct to allow air to flow out of the mid point of tunnel and reduse the air resistance for the trains to get in and out of downtown.

  30. Dintystew

    I’m happy that some Beacon Hillers got wind of this discussion and have made posts. I think it would have been useful for the author of this piece to have spoken to residents such as George Robertson who has a great deal of historical knowledge of why we are like we are on the Hill. I also agree that the original piece and especially the initial commentary came across very classist and condescending.

    I’ve lived on Beacon Hill for 10 years. My understanding is we have one of the lowest car per resident ratios in the city. That is why our busses are packed at rush hour. We can’t wait for the light-rail station to come on line and we know it will bring development. Here’s the rub: if development means ugly tacky buildings like we see in most places then NO WAY! Zoning changes that have an architectural standard – and how about a green building standard – need to go along with ALL rezones. I’m all for stopping sprawl, but not if it is UGLY, CHEAP and not environmentally sound. My 100 year house (which my wife and I open to 2 renters) is NOT going to be torn down to build a disgusting piece of junk town house. So please, when you are advocating density (which I agree with) it MUST go hand and hand with aesthetics and environmental building.

    Thanks!

  31. Sabina Pade

    Dear Beacon Hill residents,

    As your co-resident George Robertson very sensibly points out, the most useful transit upgrade for the Beacon Hill area at the present time would be an improved bus service.

    Consider : to safely operate a transit station located deep underground, continuous surveillance is necessary. There needs to be someone watching the CCTV monitors, and someone on site available to intervene or assist – at all times. 5am to midnight operation implies 3 shifts of 2 persons each, therefore 6 salary positions.

    The electricity to operate the elevators and or/escalators, and maintenance of this equipment, together with interventions necessitated by the various mishaps that befall underground structures -all this costs a considerable sum of money.

    Do correct me if you know better; my guess is that the station will cost about $500,000/year to operate. If only a few hundred regular transit users live within convenient distance of the station, is this investment a sensible one?

    With that same amount of money, what couldn’t be done to improve the bus service – a bus service, after all, that would benefit transit users throughout the entire Beacon Hill area?

    I do not claim that Metro bus service, on Beacon Hill, is adequate at present. I do think, however, that it could be made to be adequate, and in fact that it could better serve the majority of Beacon Hill residents than would a solitary light rail station.

    Best, of course, is to have both a dense bus network -and- a dedicated-right-of-way system, working in conjunction.

    But in a time of inflation and shrinking tax revenues, stalled development and general economic unease, I think Team Density does well to advocate transit solutions that are cost-effective. Only once a significant upzoning surrounding the station has been consented to, will the station make economic sense as an incentive for development.

    Readers here who feel they’ve had the NIMBY label thrown at them, please consider that the real NIMBYs almost never read this blog, and that those among us who post here are aware of this. If you’re reading here, in other words, you’re probably not a hard-core NIMBY.

    Nonetheless, as Dan Bertolet points out in a subsequent article, the reason developers build ugly, low-quality housing is that people buy it. Just as George W. Bush is president because a majority of Americans voted for him, we have trashy buildings because many Americans are content with poor architecture. We alas -do- have ourselves to blame, collectively if not individually.

  32. Laura Raymond

    Ditto many of the comments of fellow Beacon Hillers. The goals of TOD are near and dear to my heart. In fact, its something I love about Beacon Hill where I walk, bike, or bus to work, to socialize, to shop, etc. I spend a fair amount of my professional and personal time advocating for healthier and more sustainable neighborhoods – TOD is a key factor. Yet the tone of arrogance in the initial post and discussion, compounded by an apparent lack of awareness of the history, stories, and needs of the diverse communities that make up BH, was enough to make me want to write off most of what you have to say.

    Judging from this discussion, there seems to be an interest among “TODers” in encouraging others to embrace the approach. May I respectfully suggest that learning how to present your ideas in a way that originates from a place of understanding and respect, rather than condescension and disregard, is a first step.

    To provide an example, there’s mention of views and the potential to capture them. Views are something we love here on beacon hill, telephone wires and all. A lot of people have them – even in low income rentals (I lived in one for years). Unfortunately, many of us, especially in the low-income rentals are loosing our views to the very cheap, ugly, throw-em up, tall skinnies or the behemoth mixed-use cement boxes that you’d have us to wanting more of. Those views we appreciated are increasingly captured by developers hoping to make a quick, pretty penny off them and hit the road.

    I support the suggestions of others above that it’s not so much TOD that we’re opposed to but butt-ugly buildings paired with gentrification.

  33. Sara N

    Wow. What an incredible thread! I am excited to see so many Beacon Hill residents chiming in.
    I agree that the tone of the original article is not particularly helpful, and probably meant to provoke a reaction rather than collaborate on a solution. I’m more interested in the latter. At some point, and probably sooner rather than later, the city is going to revisit the station area plan for Beacon Hill. Zoning will be part of the discussion, I expect, but I hope the conversation also includes design standards for new buildings and public investment in infrastructure and amenities, such as sidewalks and open space. I consider myself a big proponent of “Team Density” — but the density doesn’t work unless it is also livable. And those livability features — especially the infrastructure and amenities — need to have center-stage along with discussions of increasing density.
    I hope this thread will motivate BH residents to demand that new (presumably denser) development responds to the character and needs of the neighborhood. The city has tools to do this. The Othello station area, for example, has created community-driven design standards for the station area. There is also a station area overlay that can control (somewhat) the type and nature of new development. The city is negotiating an incentive zoning program that would link density/height increases to the provision of public benefits. I think any dollars that are raised from incentive zoning in a station area should stay in that station area. But how will the dollars be used? That should be for the neighborhood to decide.
    Bottom line is that density, done right, can be a really good thing for communities. The population projected to come to Seattle, coupled with environmental realities and rising energy costs all compel us to create more compact and walkable (read: dense) neighborhoods. Either we can waste time fighting that growth, or we can roll up our sleeves and work to ensure that the growth happens in a way that enhances to our neighborhoods instead of detracts from them. Better design standards– preferably ones that design for people rather than cars– would certainly help a lot.

  34. Dintystew

    To briefly respond to Sabina@31:

    There are two problems with buses: 1. they get stuck in the same traffic that I want to avoid by taking public transit. 2. they can quickly get rerouted, cut or just removed. Light rail is transit that you can depend on. I agree there is a limited amount of area that will benefit, and there are problems with the design of the station (being 300′ underground), but the overall benefits will be huge. In most of the studies I’ve read, development follows light rail. It has happened in my home town of Minneapolis and it is already starting to happen in Seattle.

    Laura@32 brings up the very important point that if folks want change in neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, there is a lot that those asking for change need to do especially with changing their tone and attitude about the folks that live here. We’re all in this together.

  35. litlnemo

    George said: “The light rail? Well someday some few will use it to go to the airport or maybe to the UW or Northgate if that leg ever gets built.”

    I think he underestimates the amount of use it will get. I plan to use it to go to and from downtown for shopping, the Market, the library (yeah, I know I’ll have to walk a few blocks), baseball games, and the like. I don’t take the bus for that stuff now (except baseball games) because it’s too slow and frustrating. But the train will be faster and hopefully more reliable.

    I also wish I could take it to Southcenter, but the idiots building it put a “Southcenter Parkway” station that is in a ridiculous location (why is it there, anyway?) and not all that walkable to the mall. If the mall folks are smart, though, they’ll run constant shopping shuttles to and from that station.

    I am also planning to use it to go down to QFC and Bartell’s on Rainier when necessary, and hopefully to visit restaurants and businesses on MLK.

    Technically I could do many of these things on the bus now, but it is much slower and comes less frequently. I am excited to be able to get to so many places by train; buses, as Dintystew says, are constantly slowed by the same traffic I have to deal with in my car, and if I have to deal with that crap, it’s far more comfortable to be in my own car.

    Anyone who thinks the bus is an ideal solution hasn’t spent enough time trying to get through the left turn bottle neck at 12th and Jackson during rush hour.

    Having said all of that, I do think upzoning would be good, but as many have said, we need to have the right development, not just random ugly cardboard boxes masquerading as condos, and not wholesale destruction of the existing architectural fabric of the neighborhood. And even the upzoning we already have hasn’t really seen any interest from developers, as far as I can tell. (We aren’t selling our upzoned house, though, so don’t come knock on our door.)

    I think the usefulness of the line, once it’s in place, will start drawing development. But it might take a little while, because so many people have the idea that the entire SE of Seattle is “the ghetto.”

  36. Marco

    “As your co-resident George Robertson very sensibly points out, the most useful transit upgrade for the Beacon Hill area at the present time would be an improved bus service.”

    Eh? Looks to me like the Luddite “we hate rail” set is still stuck firmly in the last decade.

    Sabina: if bus service worked well for Beacon Hill, a light rail station never would have been situated up there. It’s the poor speed and reliability inherent to buses which neccessitate light rail service.

    What I believe I’m reading here is an opposition to the effectiveness of light rail (as opposed to its shortcomings) from backwards-looking people. Why else would such bad information be fed into the information stream?

    Is there a reason people are so insistent in carrying grudges from a past era in Seattle? What is the point of this approach?

    George Robertson epitomizes the strange hope we can all live in the past:

    “It was so cheap to add the tunnel station that the City relented and added it.”

    The Beacon Hill station was cheap? This is not a good way for Robertson to establish his credibility.

    “Never mind that if the line ever runs at the advertised capacity there will be no room on the train for anyone to board inbound at this last too-close stop before downtown in the AM peak hour.”

    Mr. Robertson: did you base that opinion on facts, or a hunch, notion or feeling?

    “And never mind that the total ridership capacity of the whole light Rail line traversing the station is identical to the ridership today on the 36 bus route which serves the whole central ridge of Beacon Hill”

    Huh? I’m still convinced light rail opponents (and transit opponents overall) base their opposition on blatant mythology. One wonders whether the correct information would have steered somebody like Robertson down the opposite path.

  37. Roger P.

    Wow. There’s so much hash in this string, for good and ill, it’s impossible to try and make sense (and provided needed corrections) of it all in one reply. I am a 19-year resident of Beacon Hill and was heavily involved in all phases of neighborhood planning in the 1990’s. And I was equally involved in the process for locating the Link light rail line and the Beacon Hill station. And I happen to work for a certain regional transit authority….

    If anybody wants to discuss these Beacon Hill issues, I’m going to be at Java Love at 7:45 a.m. this Friday. Stop by for a latte and some conversation. I’ll have printed off and marked up this string, with my comments for discussion.

  38. Sara N

    Roger P: I’ll be out of town on Friday, but would love to set up another time to chat. I am lobbying the city to reopen station area plans before light rail begins service. I was not here for the first go around, and would really like to get your perspective. Please send me an email and maybe we can set up another latte time. Thanks. sara@futurewise.org

  39. Roger Pence

    I’ve been asked to respond to some errors of fact in Schottsie’s original post: “[Long story short: Beacon Hill wasn’t supposed to get a station because the neighborhood said no upzones, but when the First Hill station got nixed and suddenly there was money leftover, decision-makers apparently forgot that Beacon Hill wasn’t supposed to get a station without agreeing to some upzones…and they gave them the station anyway.]”

    The decision to include the Beacon Hill Station was made when the Sound Transit board adopted the Initial Segment plan for Link light rail in November 2001, long before the decision was reached to delete the First Hill Station. First Hill Station is a part of the University Link project, the line that runs north from Westlake Station to the University of Washington. Funds “saved” by not building the First Hill Station remain in the University Link project; none were transferred to the Initial Segment project or to the Beacon Hill Station.

    And further, as a Beacon Hill resident, I can assert that the neighborhood did NOT say no to upzones. At the conclusion of our Neighborhood Planning project, under Mayor Norm Rice, the City implemented our neighborhood-supported upzones.

    Roger Pence
    Community Outreach Coordinator
    Sound Transit Link light rail

  40. schottsie

    Roger and others:
    I apologize if my accusations were inaccurate. My understanding from those involved at the time was that Beacon Hill was included as a “provisional station” on the initial link in the alignment planning of the late 1990s–meaning that the engineering would not preclude the construction of a station at a later date–but that the zoning and land use at the time would not justify a station, and that one would not be built. At some point later, and my understanding that it was linked to the First Hill issue, but perhaps it was not, the station was added without the upzones that would provide the density that one would like to see at a station. History is highly revisionistic, however, and I have heard a variety of versions of this story since this post initially appeared. But even if there is disagreement about the history of the station, there is little disagreement over the current state of things:
    1) a station and transit system that need to be supported by greater residential density,
    2) a city and region that need to concentrate future growth along transit in order to survive (read: environmental, social and economic survival),
    3) a neighborhood that wants public and private investment in infrastructure, amenities and good design.
    Seems to me that these three can all work together. So where is the win-win-win?

  41. Roger Pence

    The Beacon Hill tunnel routing came about after Sound Transit failed to find a satisfactory way to build via Dearborn and Rainier Ave., the original planned corridor.

    The first take on the BH tunnel did not have a station included, but after ST analyzed projected ridership data, they concluded it would have even higher ridership than the Rainier Valley stations, thus the decision to include a station. The NEXT cut had a station shell being built, but due to funding limitations, not finished until a later phase.

    The community objected to not getting a functioning station, and with the high ridership projections ST revised the budget to include the station in the Initial Segment plan. And as noted already, that plan was adopted by the ST board in November 2001.

    Zoning density actually had little or nothing to do with the station/no station decision by ST. Federal rules require transit agencies to NOT include speculative future development in making its ridership projections. The Feds look at “present trends continued”, not “what if” scenarions based on more intense zoning not yet adopted.

    That said, my personal opinion is that higher density zoning is warranted near the BH Station. Even though this area underwent “station area planning” under Mayor Paul Schell, little change resulted from that process (which came AFTER the neighborhood had already spent years on neighborhood planning; neighbors were truly exhausted by planning processes). Schell’s station area plan left single-family zoning right across the street from the station!

    I think there’s lots of potential for better planning/zoning in my Beacon Hill community, but we have to involve the community, folks with different points of view — and there are lots of points of view on Beacon Hill!

    I’m having coffee at Java Love on Friday morning at 7:45, if anyone wants to jaw about these matters.

  42. litlnemo

    I wonder if anyone showed up. 7:45am is not an ideal time for me, at least.

  43. Roger P.

    Small turnout but great thoughts expressed. For those of us who work 8 to 5, early morning is often the best choice. After work often interferes with family and other community events and activities. Suggestions re meeting times/places are welcome.

    I am strongly of the opinion that blogs and such are great at raising issues but lousy at making progress towards workable solutions. For those of us who care about these issues on Beacon Hill, we need to be meeting face to face.

  44. dan bertolet

    Roger, thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

    Here is a hypothetical question for you (and anyone else): what if, after the community involvement process, the Beacon Hill neighborhood consensus is to reject any upzones in the station area? Would you support the City overruling the neighborhood and upzoning anyway?

  45. Roger P.

    Dan, the devil’s in the details, as they say. First, we have to engage a meaningful neighborhood process (yes, I don’t like the word much either, but for the lack of a better one at the moment…) to determine what the community would like to see happen. I doubt seriously that anything approaching a “neighborhood consensus” in favor of no upzones would occur. The issue would more likely be: how high the upzones?, over how extensive an area?, and what do the non-upzoned areas get in return? I’m reachable at rpence (at) cablespeed.com, if you’d like to discuss.

  46. Trains Are Magic | hugeasscity

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