Sound Transit needs your input!

Last fall I was saddened to learn that the greater Puget Sound region voted down the mass transit package that had been put forward for the Pierce, King and Snohomish County areas. While that put a bump in the highway, so to speak, for the transit people it didn’t stop them from moving forward to see what other options could be considered for our area. Transit is a major issue for our continued quality of life in this region and many groups, government, non-profit, and public based are coming together to try and make it more and more of a priority.

It’s an enormous issue when it comes to real estate and it will impact what cities and neighborhoods will thrive over the coming years. Think of it like the railroad towns of the late 1800’s that once the automobile became the major mode of transportation, those towns dwindled to permanent small town status UNLESS they found another way to be relevant. Today, we need a more diverse mix of convenient transit options more similar to places like Washington DC, Portland, New York, Chicago or like our European counterparts in Paris, London, Madrid, or Milan.

The big question here is whether or not the choices that are implemented are ones that the public wants or feels is appropriate. If you want to see what is going on, check out this website at Sound Transit, and start providing your public comments to the conversation.

For my own part, I am proud to be a member of the local REALTOR(R) association and as part of my volunteer time spent with programs they have such as committee meetings, I am also involved in the current opinion panel work that is bringing together our organization with others that are shaping the area – such as city council members, Sound Transit, park departments, non-profit environmental groups, and more. We’re focused on trying to find common ground that we believe will benefit all in the area and transit is a big part of it. I hope you’ll join the discussion too.

Adventures In Articulated Transportation

[Editor’s note: Today, I’m excited to introduce Mike Schwagler as the newest contributor to Rain City Guide. Mike currently wears two hats in that he is an agent for John L. Scott in Redmond and also the founder of Write For Sales Copywriting. I’ve had an email dialog with Mike for a while now and I’m confident he’ll be a great contributor to the site! Mike can be reached at 425-861-1588 or]

My wife, Diane, and I have lived on the Eastside for over 20 years and never tire of going to Seattle. Well, perhaps the verb going is misleading. We like being in Seattle…at least once we get there! The hubbub, the energy, the cultural activities, the people on the street, everything about it is wonderful. Seattle truly is a great city!

Going there, however, has always been the issue. In fact, I’d bet there were 10 years when we only got downtown once a year. Driving in, along with the issues of parking and navigating the downtown streets had been enough of a hassle to discourage a lot of our visits.

About a year ago Diane took a position with Virginia Mason, working downtown, and discovered something quite remarkable – our public transportation system. At first we were a little bit hesitant about this whole bus thing, so on the Saturday morning before she started her new job, we took the bus downtown. It was a dry run to figure out the best stops for her to get off and the best routes for her to walk to her new offices. Once we were comfortable with all of that, we walked a few blocks to the shopping district and ended up hanging out in downtown Seattle all day. It was a blast!

When we were done, we hopped onto the “545” (one of those long, articulated express buses) at Westlake Center and 23 minutes later we got off at the Redmond park and ride. Who needs a car?

Diane takes the bus to work every day and with the exception of a storm-related adventure last winter (which could’ve had serious consequences had she been driving a car), she has been having a great experience. She’s developed a group of bus-buddies and always has an interesting story about someone new she met on the bus. That doesn’t happen in your car unless you crash into someone.

As for me, I’ve used Metro and Sound Transit to get downtown at least fifteen times, for seminars, shopping and just for fun. I hop onto the “545” right outside my office here in Redmond (how convenient is that?), do what I have to do downtown, and then meet Diane after work for a bite to eat or to just stroll around with my gal in the Emerald City.

One day every pothole will get its moment in the limelight

I think the running joke about blogs a couple of years ago was that belly button lint blogging was why most blogs would forever remain niche-y and unread. Today much of the “fantastical” thinking about locally-focussed blogs is that citizen journalists will report on everything (everything!) happening in their neighborhoods. When they look up from their navels, the online future gazers say (actually they blog) that we’ll all be served better local news by a cadre of unpaid neighbors noticing things in front of their houses and doing a little snooping. I tended to sneer at this concept until today, when I read every word of this blog post about a pothole in my neighborhood. Yes. A pothole.

Perhaps citizen journalism does have a place…

Neighborhood Roundup: Seattle Uncovers a Funny Bone

Due to the success of last week’s neighborhood roundup, I thought I’d make another attempt…

After a confusing vote on the Viaduct replacement, the Need to Know Seattle Condos blog lets us know about the grassroots movement to replace the viaduct with condos… This type of mixed-use development is sure to please the folks at City Comforts (temporarily, known as Viaduct, the blog)…

[photopress:pizza_bike.jpg,thumb,alignright]The Capitol Hill Seattle folks are shocked to get fast (and dry) pizza delivery in Seattle. “Because the Pagliacci delivery guy refuses to purchase a fender for the rear tire of his bike (he claims the tips aren’t that good), our pizza not only takes a long time to get delivered, but the cardboard box arrives soaked whenever it rains! The fact that Palermo’s delivery guy uses a car is a big plus (even if it doesn’t please our social sensibilities!).” Do you think it would help the Pagliacci delivery guy to know that he could get free maintenance advice for his bike at the Garfield Community Center on Sunday afternoons?

Seth over at the Seattlest loves the rain. (He obviously doesn’t order pizza from Pagliacci very often).

A much more prominent Seth seems more than a little concerned that Ballard’s Archie McPhee is selling Cap’n Danger Stunt Monkey’s for kids. The photo says tells the story…

The West Seattle Blog lets us know about the “West Seattle Pet Rodeo and Snooty Walk”. Seriously, here’s a link to the event

Others in West Seattle are looking to return a missing fowl.

Ballard Avenue uncovers this (I’m not sure how to describe it!) video from Finland. Thanks to the fact that my wife loves this video, I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit…

Today’s saddest news in the Seattle neighborhood blog scene… Rumor has it that the writers behind the Seattlest and Metroblogging Seattle decided it would be a fun April Fool’s prank if they switched blogs for a day. However, the joke backfired when readers couldn’t tell the difference…

And finally, this post just missed the entry time for the Carnival of the Cities that is going to be hosted by The Seattle Traveler(there’s a carnival for everything!) What a bummer!

Move Along…

[photopress:selling_peaches.jpg,full,alignright]Thanks to both Ardell and Joel, I’ve been tapped to list five things you may not know about me… Not sure where to start, I decided to focus today’s theme on some fun jobs (but I won’t go so far as to take you back to the days of selling fruit on the streets of LA! LOL):

1) At 16 years old, I spent the summer working as an ice cream scooper at a Haagen Dazs shop in Paris. At the time (early 90s), Haagen Dazs was all the rage in Europe, so it felt like I was in the center of the universe. Needless to say, I learned a lot working around a bunch of older (early 20s!) Parisian models for a summer, although my French never got very good because all the girls wanted to learn to speak “American” as oppose to their school-taught “English”. One of the highlights (that I can discuss in a real estate blog) was blasting Nirvana on the shops speakers (loud!) after-hours while closing the shop down. At the time, Nirvana’s Nevermind album had not yet been released in Europe (at least everyone around acted like it had not!), so having a copy turned out to be a HUGE hit.

2) The next career arc came during my UC Santa Cruz years when I was studying Environmental Studies… At 19, I drove to Alaska to work for consumer interesting group, AKPirg, in order campaign for “Campaign Finance Reform”. (I find it more than mildly amusing that 10 years later, their lead issue is still campaign finance reform.) While raising money and making a big fuss about all things political and environmental, I was getting paid to travel around the state and made many national park stops! Grizzlies in Denali, hiking under glaciers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and that long, long, long Alaskan highway are all unforgettable experiences… I guess I wasn’t so bad at raising money for causes, because later in the summer I was asked to work for the USPirg office in Chapel Hill and was given the hilarious opportunity to canvass Jesse Helms in an effort to get him to join the Sierra Club! I guess I don’t have Bono’s magnetism, because despite a good 15 minute conversation, I couldn’t get him to join up for even the basic membership! 🙁

3) At 22, while studying Engineering at UC Berkeley, I decided to spend a summer working as a student-researcher for the Pavement Research Center. Believe it or not, this was a fascinating job that brought me up and down (and up and down) the state taking samples from test pavements in order to see the effects of some experimental pavement mixtures under different conditions. The pavement job was really good to me (financially), so I was able to stash some cash away for the school year and still take my girlfriend, Anna, on a cross-country trip via drive-away cars for the last few weeks before school started.

Our first assignment was to drive a car to Charlotte, NC (from Berkeley, CA) and we took I-40 almost all the way. Some of our stops including an evening in Las Vegas, a day on Lake Mead, hiking around the Grand Canyon, wondering in Santa Fe, eating huge steaks in Oklahoma City, dancing (and more dancing) at Elvis Week in Memphis, visiting the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, and shopping in Atlanta. For the return trip, we took the northern route (roughly I-80) with stops along the backroads of West Virginia (just in time to watch Bill Clinton give his famous mea culpa speech at our hotel room), a county fair in Kentucky, a Second City performance in Chicago, the Iowa State Fair, an evening in Boulder, CO, a hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and a hike on the Great Salt Lake. The kicker is that we did all of this in just a little over two weeks!

4) After graduating from Berkeley, I spent the first seven years of my professional career as a planner/engineer for a transportation consulting firm. This was interesting work in that I got to spend a lot of time working with local government officials to improve their transportation, and in particular their transit, systems. I worked all over the west coast for clients like BART, SF MUNI, SCAG, MAG, Portland’s Metro, and King County Metro, Sound Transit, WSDOT and the City of Seattle and became somewhat of an expert in travel demand modeling and GIS. Despite lots of good opportunities ahead (transportation in every American city will get worse before it gets better!), I knew it was time to look for new opportunities when Rain City Guide started to take off…

5) About eight months ago, I jumped off the engineering bridge and went to work for Move. One of the things I’ve learned is that while the technology (or secret sauce) behind large websites can be complex, it is the business development and marketing opportunities that most interest me. Hence, about a month ago, I switched out of our product development team and into our marketing team (although things are never that simple… :)). Probably the best news (at least for me) is that this switch means I’ll be able to come out of my dark cave and blog a bit more during the next year!

No perpetuation of memes from me! 🙂

Interesting Insurance Program from King County Metro

I just received a newsletter from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute that describes an innovative project that is being tested by King County Metro.

King County Metro, the Washington State Department of Transportation and other partners has $2,2 million to develop a Pay As You Drive (PAYD) Insurance Pilot project for Washington State over a 4-year period to evaluate the impacts of a pilot including at least 5000 participants. They are in the process of recruiting an insurance carrier to join in the project. The deadline for expressions of interest is February 15, 2006. For more information contact Bill Roach ( or Bob Flor (

I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I noticed that the Cascadia Scorecard had an article on this topic today, Pay As You Drive Insurance, and they didn’t mention this interesting program. This makes me think that the project must be really below the radar and in need of some Rain City Guide attention!

So how does it relate to Seattle real estate? Barely… But what’s important is that if you are a King County resident whose car spends almost all day at home, then you may be able to save money by joining this program and only paying insurance on the miles that you drive.

How Does Mass Transit Affect Property Values?

I’ve been at a couple of gatherings lately with Microsoft employees and other tech folk who have some money to invest and are considering investing in real estate. I’ve recommended that they consider buying along future transit lines like the green line (monorail) or the lightrail route. (If they’re feeling adventurous, I also mention the southlake union streetcar.) In making these recommendations, I’ve been operating under the assumption that additional mass transit will increase nearby property values. But rather than live by assumptions, I decided to do a little research on the subject.

Financing Transit Systems Through Value Capture does a great job summarizing how transit can affect property values:

Proximity to transit can affect property values in three somewhat different ways, one negative and two positive.

First, being located very close to a transit station or along a transit line tends to have negative effects, due to noise and air pollution from trains, and increased automobile traffic from users. These nuisance may reduce residential property values very close to a transit station or rail line.

Second, it gives one location a relative advantage over other locations, attracting residential and commercial development that would otherwise occur elsewhere in the region. This is an economic transfer.

Third, transit can also increase overall productivity by reducing total transportation costs (including costs to consumers, businesses and governments) for vehicles, parking and roads and providing a catalyst for more clustered development patterns that provide economies of agglomeration, which can reduce the costs of providing public services and increase productivity due to improved accessibility and network effects (Coffey and Shearmur, 1997). Although these productivity benefits are difficult to quantify, they can be large: just a few percentage increase in property values, a few percentage reduction in automobile and parking costs, or few percentage increase in business productivity in a community can total hundreds of millions of dollars.

The cited report operates under the assumption that mass transit not only increases property values, but that it increases them to a point where the projects could pay for themselves if only the increased property values could be “captured” through some type of taxing mechanism. This argument is one that has been around since at least the 70s, and while the argument is interesting, I’m began my research wanting to test the basic assumption that mass transit even adds value to nearby properties.

Actual Data
Probably the most comprehensive study I could find on the subject was a study by PB (a transportation consulting firm) called: The Effect of Rail Transit on Property Values. It is loaded with case studies for both residential and commercial properties, and in general, the data is clear that a property values near a rail station are much greater than those farther away. The report gives lots of data showing that property values in Washington DC, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Santa Clara County, Portland, and San Diego all increased near transit stations. (Note that many of the results are phrased “price decrease by $XXX for every XX feet further from station.’ This is just another way of saying that prices increase near the station.) While two cities (Sacramento and San Jose) showed either no effect or a decrease in home values near the transit stations, the report found that (at least in San Jose), the property along the rail corridors were historically poorer (long before the current lightrail was added) than other parts of San Jose.

The results from a study of property values around BART in the San Francisco Bay Area are pretty conclusive:

Table 1: Single Family Homes

Distance from BART CBD/Urban Suburban
(feet) (per unit) (per unit)
0 to 500 $48,960 $9,140
500 to 1000 $14,040 $7,930
1000 to 1500 $8,640 $3,040
2000 to 2500 $5.760 $5,500

Assuming this data holds for Seattle, then residents should expect to see substantial increases in property values after the mass transit is built assuming that this price increase is not already factored into the existing property values. Note that almost all of Seattle is “urban” by the study’s definition. (On a personal note, I recently purchased a home in Ballad near the proposed green line and am thrilled by the prospect that Seattlites will be essentially subsidizing my property values should the monorail ever be built!)

While, I started off thinking that additional mass transit would add to property values, I had a hard time finding any evidence to the contrary (research bias?). Nearly every article I found on-line gushed about how mass transit was increasing nearby property values:

In conclusion, after a few hours of research, I’m more convinced than ever that mass transit increases property values.

Does this mean that mass transit is always a good idea? Probably not… There are plenty of good arguments for not wanting mass transit such as increased noise, increased traffic, increased parking congestion, etc. However, if you are interested in making a good investment in the Seattle area, finding a home/apartment/commercial building near a future transit line seems like a great way to increase the likelihood that your investment will pay off in the long run.

Do you want more information? I’ve created an on-line bookmark of related articles at I’ll continue to update add articles to this link as I come across them!

In addition, I’ve just received an email from Seattle Monorail staff that they will be sending me a report (hard copy) that I requested titled The New Seattle Monorail’s Potential Effect on Property Values (Seattle Monorail Project, August 24, 2002). (I have no idea why they don’t have an electronic version..). If there are any gems of information out of that report, I’ll update this posting.