Sound Transit: More leadership, please!

Tomorrow night at the North Link Light Rail Roosevelt Station meeting, the agenda includes a discussion of land use and Transit Oriented  the Roosevelt neighborhood (find out what happened at last night’s meeting here). I’ve already talked about what I think might help the situation up in Roosevelt. Part of the fix is to have more, high level involvement from the City, and a bit of a cooling off period. More density is needed in Roosevelt’s plan, but it’s going to take some serious facilitation to figure out how to get an alignment of interests. But the process in Roosevelt sure could use more involvement, vision, and leadership from the agency at the heart of it all, Sound Transit.

First, the good stuff. Sound Transit has, over the years, overcome lots of big hurdles. I remember when the whole concept of regional transit was voted on back in the 1990s. The whole thing seemed pie in the sky at the time and the agency faced financial problems and a “tunnel or nothing” rebellion in the Rainier Valley. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d take the longest light rail elevator ride to a station on Beacon Hill. But Sound Transit made the first part of regional light rail and transit happen.

There are several reasons that Sound Transit offers about why it doesn’t get involved in local land use decisions. It doesn’t have the personnel. There are no upsides for the agency to anger local governments that permit their work. And there are dozens of local governments with lots and lots of bizarre local politics. How on earth could they sort all that out? Also, Sound Transit lacks the muscle I suggested the region needs in a transit agency.

Now the criticism and advice. Roosevelt is in real danger of losing, as it did in Beacon Hill, a big opportunity to get density appropriate for light rail. There isn’t enough leadership coming from Sound Transit in Roosevelt. Here’s what they’re doing wrong and how they could start turning it around.

  • More creative and integrated station design–the current proposed design for the station is desultoryat best and abysmal at worst.  Right now it’s two blocks of boxy blank facade along 12th Ave and no development on top. Do we want an airport concourse in the heart of the neighborhood?

    Your flight is boarding at the Roosevelt Gate

  • Transit to nowhere?–Roosevelt is not exactly nowhere, but are we really going to build millions of dollars worth of transit station so it can sit next to this? Sound Transit can afford to weigh in on this and other examples of it around the region. When local governments fail to do land use right it is a waste of transit resources. Sure, density may come years down the road. But now is the time to get the land use right. Transit is about more than driving trains and buses, it’s also critically linked to land use
  • Where’s the planning and facilitation?–years ago when I worked at the City’s Department of Neighborhoods, Sound Transit actually funded staff at the City to help to station area planning. A lot of that work was what could be called “hand holding,” listening to neighborhood worries and dreams about the neighborhood but that had nothing to do with transit. But it helped immensely in terms of sorting out local problems before they became a land use failure. But for some reason that investment stopped.

As far as the first bullet goes, Sound Transit knows how to do this. What they are proposing at the University District station includes development on top of it. Yes, this kind of collaboration can create complications. It would require getting into partnerships and discussions about financing and design of housing and retail. And that would require, well, leadership.

The second bullet doesn’t need to be about heavy handed lobbying efforts of local elected officials. That won’t work anyway, since local political bread isn’t really buttered by Sound Transit. But it could be. That takes me to bullet number three. By investing again in local planning and development, Sound Transit can put a carrot even where it can’t put a stick. Good scoping and project management could burn out the NIMBYs, disperse concern trolls, and make local politicians look like visionary leaders bringing home the bacon.

Finally, this is regional investment. Until we get the kind of regional government that Oregon has, we’re going to have to rely on regional finesse. Allowing local governments and parochial concerns to play havoc with billions of transit investment is like re-wiring and re-plumbing an apartment building one unit at a time. Sound Transit has to stop playing passive defense and get into the TOD game. It won’t be easy and it might not be fun. And it will cost money and time which is scarce. Building regional transit that fulfills both regional and local expectations won’t be easy, but neither is leadership. The pay off, however, is worth it.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Sound Transit: More leadership, please!

  1. Pingback: Roosevelt Station Design Concept - Seattle Transit Blog

  2. Mark S Johnson says:

    Maybe the meeting was last night? from the link:

    Roosevelt Neighborhood Association general meeting, Tuesday, May 24, 7:15-9:30PM, Roosevelt High School, Room 242, 1410 NE 66th St
    Agenda includes an update on the rezoning in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

  3. . says:

    Sorry Mark. I had the wrong meeting. Fixed it.

  4. Pingback: Roosevelt Station Design Concept | Columbia

  5. Pingback: Economic analysis doesn’t inform Roosevelt station design decisions | Seattle's Land Use Code

  6. Pingback: Take a letter Maria . . . | Seattle's Land Use Code

  7. Pingback: Good news for Roosevelt zoning | Seattle's Land Use Code

  8. andy reay-ellers says:

    a couple things to add:

    this neighborhood has been proactive all along –with little or no help from the city or sound transit– and worked up their own station-area-planning effort because they didn’t want to see it happen in a piecemeal, contract-rezone, unplanned and haphazard manner. why Sound Transit spends billions on light rail, but doesn’t facilitate station area planning efforts well in advance of station/light rail developments is mystifying. thorough “smart-growth” planning efforts YEARS ahead of time (like at least 10) is needed if Sound Transit and the region wants to be successful in the near-term future of the next few decades……

    wordpress previouly posted a re-cap of the neighborhood-lead efforts to get out in front of the light rail development. see:

    with a number of people howling that the neighborhood-endorsed plan of upzones aren’t big enough, I think its worth considering how many areas of Seattle fight all developments….. here is a neighborhood that fought for the light rail alignment to be moved INTO the center of their community; and then took it upon themselves to organize the public process and created a consensus plan of upzoning the center of their neighborhood. Neither DPD, nor the mayor’s office, nor the city council, nor sound transit was thinking this far ahead and even considering this 5 years ago, and the community –on their own– started pushing for growth.
    consider how (unfortunately) rare this is…… its a bloody shame that some of the gang who’ve now come late to the issue are labling the neighborhood as “NIMBY”. this is a neighborhood that not only never said “Not In My Backyard” — but actually ran a campaign which stated “Yes In My Front Yard”!
    Roosevelt WANTS growth, but recognized early the importance of Smart Growth — not just blindly demanding that everything within a certain distance of the station be zoned up the maximum amount……

    The biggest current issue which everyone should rally behind is demanding that the Roosevelt Station be designed for complete and integrated over-build. Much of the discussion bouncing around online and in meeting concerns whether certain city blocks should be upzoned to 40′, or 65′. A much bigger difference –many more units of housing creating much greater density– could be realized if the station were designed with a full build-out of housing above. Apparently the Brooklyn Station is being designed to incorporate developement above.
    The Roosevelt Station’s current design, as presented by Sound Transit at the recent Roosevelt Open House shows a footprint of some 60,000 sq feet — in an area zoned for 65′ mixed-use developement — with no developement at all! Just a huge, over-tall, one story lobby with nothing but empty (density-wasting) air space above it!

    All fans of smart-growth and higher-density planning should take as a top priority calling for Sound Transit to design the Roosevelt and Northgate stations to be designed and constructed with full-height, max-density “overbuild”. The design of these stations is currently still in the early, conceptual stages. Now is the time to change these plans, because once these stations are constructed it will be nearly impossible to build anything above them in the future.

    by-the-way, if you think about it, I would think a strategic alliance on this issue could be made between the progressive density hawks and the conservative financial-hawks: an overbuild of the Northlink Stations would allow for greater density right at the transit stations –&– an station overbuild’s commercial development would provide Sound Transit a good source of financial return to help defray the cost of the transit system, and provide a strong boost to ridership.

  9. Pingback: “Then, something interesting happened.” | Seattle's Land Use Code

  10. Pingback: Density intensity: Rail in Vancouver comes with lots of people | Seattle's Land Use Code

  11. Pingback: Chapter 23.80 Essential Public Facilities: Seattle could push Sound Transit to the table | Seattle's Land Use Code

  12. Pingback: Amend Seattle’s land use code to get real Transit Oriented Development - Seattle Transit Blog

  13. Pingback: Where is the TOD? : Great City

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s