Seattle lauded for leading edge transportation policies

The first installment of The Atlantic’s new CityLab Insights series hails Seattle as “the most successful transit city in the country.” Leading with the news that Seattle became home to America’s 2nd largest fleet of dockless bicycles after replacing 500 bike-sharing stations with close to 9,000 of the free-range variety, the article points to recent success in 3 areas:

  • Increasing the supply of transit by: (a) approving $53.8 billion to double our region’s light rail system; and (b) adding 700,000 rides to the city’s bus network.
  • Reforming parking and land/road use policies to release developers from the obligation to build off-street parking in new, densely populated “urban villages” that have frequent transit service.
  • Breaking new ground in “transportation demand management” (TMD), which works with local employers “to manage their supply of parking and other benefits, and to shape demand through incentives, rewards, and games.”

To accommodate increased demand for safe and convenient bike-parking and support the city’s goal of quadrupling bicycle ridership by 2030, the Seattle City Council has significantly upgraded bicycle parking requirements.  Highlights of the new legislation include:

  • Increasing the amount of required bicycle parking.
  • Requiring office buildings with more than 100,000 square feet to provide shower facilities for both genders (shower facilities are exempted from new buildings’ size limits).
  • Allowing developers to trade 1 car stall for 2 bicycle parking spaces, allowing removal of up to 20% of required car parking.
  • Requiring access to bike parking without the use of stairs.
  • Requiring that bike rooms accommodate family, cargo, and electric bikes.
  • Adding a bike valet provision for major even venues.

To look at commute trends by mode of transportation in King County, go to Communities Count’s Trend by Mode of Transportation,  click “Mode of Transport Trends,” click the mode of interest (drove alone, carpooled, public transportation, walked, biked, or worked at home), then click the cities for which you would like to see trends.  Not surprisingly, densely populated Seattle has shown the greatest increases in biking and walking to work.  Click here to see the effect of light rail on commuter choices in Tukwila.

(Although it’s flattering to be called out as a model for other cities, we have a long way to go before we come close to the “deserted freeway” image depicted by CityLab Insights.)

Light rail transforms Tukwila commute

Five years after light rail came to King County, use of public transit by Tukwila commuters more than doubled (from 7% to 16%); at the same time, the share of Tukwila residents who drove to work alone dropped from 73% to 65%.  Commute modes did not change in South King County cities that do not have light rail service.  In Kent and Auburn, for example, 3 out of 4 commuters were still driving to work, and only 6% used public transit.

The recent extension of Link Light Rail to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington further increased Tukwila commuters’ use of light rail.  When the new stations opened in March, reported that Tukwila’s regular and overflow parking lots filled as early as 6:30 am, highlighting needs for nearby affordable housing plus better pedestrian, bike, and local-transit access.

What are the prospects for light rail in other South King County communities?  A new station at Angle Lake, 1.6 miles south of SeaTac Airport, will open this fall, and an extension to Kent/Des Moines (near Highline College) has already been funded.  Funding to complete extensions to the Star Lake park-and-ride (at South 272nd Street), and the Federal Way Transit Center are proposed as part of Sound Transit’s latest (ST3) plan.

Communities Count’s new update of commuting by mode of transportation includes interactive data visualizations on cities throughout King County.  King County/Metro’s online Commute Calculator enables users to compare the costs of driving alone versus using public transit.  

Two King County cities designated Walk Friendly

Seattle and Bellevue are among 58 U.S. communities that have earned 2016 “Walk Friendly” status from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC).  According to PBIC, the Walk Friendly Community designation is awarded to applicant communities on the basis of “a comprehensive assessment tool that evaluates community walkability and pedestrian safety through questions related to engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, evaluation and planning.”

SDOT photo showing reroute around work project that doesn’t force pedestrians to cross the street.

Seattle is the only Walk Friendly Community to reach Platinum-level recognition “due to top-notch planning and engineering, outstanding outreach and education, and strong enforcement and evaluation practices.”  Highlights noted by PBIC include:

  • Evaluation practices, including multiple pedestrian counts each year at almost 50 locations.
  • Web-based Pedestrian Master Plan with clear goals and performance indicators (for example, reaching out to 10 new schools each year).
  • Clear new directives for pedestrian mobility around work zones.
  • Installation of speed enforcement cameras at 14 schools.
  • Seattle Summer Parkways, free summer events that keep cars off several miles of city streets so people can walk, bike, dance, eat, and play in safety.
  • Adopting a complete streets ordinance that “directs SDOT to design streets for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and persons of all abilities, while promoting safe operation for all users, including freight.”
  • Reducing the speed of vehicles on city streets by: (a) installing thousands of traffic-calming devices and (b) starting in 2016, lowering speed limits on 10 arterial corridors, the central business district, and selected residential streets.
  • Managing parking by: (a) abolishing minimum parking standards in downtown and (b) providing parking-reduction incentives for large development projects.

Bellevue’s designation as a Silver-level community is based on its “excellent engineering practices, planning programs, and high mode share for transit and walking.”

For King County data on commuting by public transportation, walking or biking, see Community Health Indicators.  In its Transportation section, Communities Count posts data on commuting, neighborhood connections, and traffic safety (including traffic collisions and injury/fatalities in King County cities).