Reader view: Density — who decides where it should go? Cities or the state?

The Washington State House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy

The State will soon be telling cities where to put growth and not allow any appeals.

The 2023 Washington State Legislature is considering a bill that would require all cities over 25,000 in population to increase density one-quarter and one-half of a mile around major transit stops. The argument made by supporters is that this will provide more affordable homes, create more walkable cities and make it easier for people to use transit.

Since 1990, both Sound Transit, the regional transit authority, and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), our federally mandated metropolitan planning organization, have assumed an increase in density in designated centers and cities in their plans. The state’s Growth Management Act also requires cities to zone for more housing. Most cities have complied and have absorbed additional growth these last 30 years. House Bill 1110 is different. It dictates where cities must up-zone to accommodate growth. The rhetoric by supporters makes it sound as though this is a magic bullet that will significantly increase transit ridership, implying that it will also reduce greenhouse gases, make housing more affordable, and because so many people will be taking transit, reduce congestion.

The reality is that even assuming this growth around stations occurs, PSRC’s latest sophisticated computer-based modeling for 2050 shows that it will make little difference in increasing the percentage of trips on rail. Buses would see a very modest increase. Meanwhile, according to government plans, traffic congestion worsens, and we fall further behind in addressing climate change in any meaningful way. Private sector innovation, public-private partnerships, and other projects that would address climate change, traffic congestion, transit access and affordable housing needs remain largely ignored.

Here is an example from the 2050 PSRC Transportation Plan page 18. and Appendix H Pg. 7 Figure #2


“PSRC will track progress toward both the 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Following plan adoption, PSRC will work with its partners to develop a 2030 transportation network and inputs corresponding to the Four-Part Greenhouse Gas Strategy and conduct a 2030 analysis in alignment with the region’s 2030 and 2050 climate goals.”


According to their bar chart, the climate reduction goal is 80% below 1990. However, their actual 2050 Transportation Plan only gets us 6% below the 1990 figure, not 83%, which is the actual target. Please see our Smarter Transit home page for complete documentation of rhetoric vs. reality information regarding transit ridership and growing congestion.

Sadly, instead of these regional planning and transit agencies working for us by making transit truly accessible, fast, reliable and affordable, they are getting the Legislature to get cities and citizens to work for them. Their plans are not going as planned. Instead, this legislation would toss aside the careful planning that cities and neighborhoods have done over the last 30 years in complying with the Growth Management Act.

City leaders and citizens should require that their legislators, Sound Transit and PSRC board members show us their work clearly, not buried in Appendix H. How do these up-zoning bills do what they intend: significantly increase transit ridership, provide more affordable housing near frequent, fast transit, and therefore mitigate anticipated growing traffic congestion?

Unfortunately, they can’t.

The legislators are hearing from the building and real estate groups, Sound Transit and PSRC board members as well as transit and rail enthusiasts. Your representatives need to hear from you today. Let them know we want these public agencies to work for the region, not the other way around. We need balanced, thoughtful legislation to deal with these very pressing problems.

Most important, we need elected officials to first get agreement on what’s the problem we’re trying to solve and then pass legislation that will actually help solve it.

— By Maggie Fimia and the Smarter Transit Team

Smarter Transit describes itself as an all-volunteer, pro-transit, non-partisan, non-profit citizens’ organization. Its stated mission is to support and advocate for accountable public transportation governance and investments that grow transit, vanpool, carpool ridership, and safe bike and walking routes throughout the Puget Sound region in the most cost-effective way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.